Classroom cameras, more staff part of plan to address needs of Fayette autistic students

Following at least two recent incidents of educators dragging students with autism — including one caught on video that drew attention from national television networks — Fayette County Public Schools officials are taking several steps, including:

Installing more surveillance cameras in classrooms

Hiring an outside firm to audit the district’s current programs for students with autism

Creating structured teaching and therapeutic classrooms for students with autism and other special needs at one or more elementary schools

Creating three new positions — including that of a behavior analyst — so more staff will be available to work with students who have autism and other special needs. That could result in multiple people being hired, not just three.

Partnering with a post-secondary institution — most likely the University of Kentucky — to create after-school programs and other services for students with autism and their families. Caulk recently visited a similar program at Western Kentucky University, which he gave high marks.

The new recommendations were discussed at Monday’s school board planning meeting.

“We want to be the best ... we want to make sure we are providing the best care possible,” Caulk said. Families with children with autism move to Fayette County specifically to get the services offered by the district, he said.

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Superintendent Manny Caulk applauded at a school board meeting in July. Alex Slitz

An audit of the current program would help the district “get stronger” in areas where services were already strong and “give us ideas and feedback on areas where we can continue to grow.”

The recommended changes follow several incidents in the school system with autistic students. A video of a teacher and a school nurse dragging a student at Tates Creek Middle School in September made national television news in October. The teacher involved in the incident has resigned, according to documents attached to a school board agenda and obtained by the Herald-Leader under the Kentucky Open Records Act. Health department officials placed the nurse involved on leave.

In an October investigative report, Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services workers found enough evidence to support allegations by Picadome Elementary school staff that in August a teacher’s aide — found not to have completed re-certification in safe crisis management — dragged a boy by the ankles into a classroom “when he would not cooperate with her.”

A state investigative report said University of Kentucky medical staff documented contusions and scrapes after a 6-year-old autistic student was allegedly dragged by a teacher’s aide in August at Picadome Elementary. Submitted

The report said witnesses said the teacher’s aide also put the child in a room by himself while standing outside and holding the door closed. She picked him up from behind and sat down with him in a rocking chair, causing him to bump his head, according to the report. The techniques were not appropriate or approved, the report said. There was no video of that incident, school officials told the family. The teacher’s aide is no longer with the district, officials said.

Amanda Dennis, the school district’s director of special education, said there are 717 students with autism receiving services in the school district, with the largest number, 293, at the elementary level. There is a child with autism at every school in Fayette County, she said. School board chairwoman Stephanie Spires said there are additional students with autism in the district who don’t require special services in the classroom.

The new therapeutic classroom would be large with areas for academic instruction, social skills learning, and areas with sensory equipment, she said.

“We know that every kid learns differently and we need to have a lot of tools in our toolbox,” Spires said. “This is just a continuation of what we have been doing for all of our students.”