Yet another report of a disabled Kentucky child being dragged at school received national media attention Monday, and a state advocate said it’s at least the fourth incident since the school year started last fall.
On Tuesday, Kentucky State Police Trooper David Boarman said that Greenup County teacher Trina Abrams, who he confirmed was shown in a video dragging a student at Wurtland Elementary in October, had been charged with fourth degree assault of a victim under 12 years old. The child’s mother in a Facebook post had also identified Abrams as the teacher in the video.
Abrams appeared in court Wednesday and pleaded not guilty, according to the Associated Press.
Abrams had been removed from the elementary school as a result of the incident, according to a statement from the school district given to WSAZ-TV in Huntington. Specifics of what that means were unclear.
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The video was widely aired on national media sites, including CNN.
Two incidents of autistic students being dragged in Fayette County have been reported since August. And Lucy Heskins, an attorney supervisor for Kentucky Protection and Advocacy said while she can’t provide specifics, she is also aware of an incident involving a school child being dragged in Jefferson County.
“I’m not surprised,” Heskins said about the four incidents, “Restraint is an intervention that is much misused across the state. We have been, and remain, concerned with the inappropriate use of restraint in schools across the state.”
The incidents point out the need for “a call for more training,” for school staff, said Heskins, and the need for a cultural shift in schools that “laying hands on a child isn’t OK and should only be reserved for those extreme situations in which a child poses a risk to himself or others.”
On Sunday, the mother of the Greenup County student posted a video on Facebook of her son who has autism being dragged in the hallway at Wurtland Elementary School.
“My 9-year old son has been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety and depression,” a post by Angel Nelson said. “In addition, his speech is also limited. He has an IEP in place to help make sure that all his needs are met while at school.“ An IEP is an individualized education program created for special education students.
Nelson said the teacher forcefully grabbed her son by the wrist and bent it backward while he was experiencing a meltdown which he sometimes does as part of his diagnoses.
“After he let go of the chair, she grabbed him by the wrist and drug him down the hallway from one classroom into another, according to school video footage. The camera within the classroom had previously been turned towards the corner, so unfortunately there is no video in the classroom.
“According to my son, she threw him hard down onto a chair. Beyond this, we will never truly know what took place behind that closed door because of my son’s speech limitations,” Nelson wrote.
“This incident was violent enough to not only injure my child, but to also destroy his shoes,” Nelson wrote.
Also in her post Nelson said that all schools should be required to have cameras to protect students and teachers. Teachers should be properly trained to handle children with disabilities and to learn proper protocol to retrain and redirect if needed, she said.
“The fact that my son is not able to fully verbalize what he went through means that we must fight that much harder for all kids, but especially the kids who cannot speak for themselves.”
WSAZ-TV reported that Greenup County Superintendent Sherry Horsley released a statement Monday, but did not identify the teacher, that said the district followed protocol as soon as the situation became known, according to WSAZ-TV. A parent was contacted and the student was assessed by the school nurse. Child Protective Services was contacted and the Kentucky State Police opened an investigation. The teacher was removed from the school and a formal investigation was conducted.
The superintendent also followed protocol and reported the incident to the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board which determines whether or not a teacher keeps their teaching certificate, the statement said.
School staff in the Greenup district are trained to prevent incidents of restraint, the statement said. Each school has a specially trained team to address immediate issues, and the school has teachers specially trained to address autism-related behaviors.
Nelson and Horsley did not immediately respond to requests from the Herald-Leader on Tuesday.
In Fayette County, following at least two recent incidents of educators dragging students with autism — including one caught on video that drew attention from national media — Fayette district 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 and creating structured teaching and therapeutic classrooms for students with autism and other special needs at one or more elementary schools.
In the incident with a video of a teacher and a school nurse dragging a student at Tates Creek Middle School in September, the teacher involved resigned.
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 dragged a boy by the ankles into a classroom “when he would not cooperate with her.” The teachers aide no longer works for the district, although officials have not provided specifics.
Heskins said that “some parents of disabled children in Kentucky are increasingly aware that physical intervention can be abusive” and that could be leading to more reporting of the dragging incidents. A child having a “meltdown” and not posing a danger, should not be physically managed, she said, and any child with autism who has behavior challenges should have a behavior plan that gives teachers tools.
Kentucky already has a regulation that prohibits the use of restraint or seclusion in schools unless a child presents a physical danger to himself or others and other interventions have been ineffective, said Heskins. But Heskins said that school staff don’t always adhere to the state regulation.
Terry Brooks, exective director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said Tuesday that “no child should be subject to abuse in any setting, and especially in a schoolhouse. That commitment to protect kids is especially imperative when it comes to vulnerable children, who may not have the requisite skills to advocate for themselves.”
Brooks said there is no magic wand to prevent the recent situations, but he supports staff training that ensures emotional and physical safety at schools. He said there is a delicate balance when it comes to faculty and staff.
“On one hand, working in schools is tough, demanding and stressful business and educators have to be supported. On the other hand, we have to have processes in place that ensure accountability on the part of employees,” Brooks said. “While we have to ensure that due processes are guaranteed, we also have to ensure that there are consequences to incidents like this.“