Education

Mercer County mom whose son was put in bag delivers 170,000 signatures to school board

Sandra Baker delivered petition papers calling for more teacher training and disciplinary action against those responsible for putting her son in a bag.
Sandra Baker delivered petition papers calling for more teacher training and disciplinary action against those responsible for putting her son in a bag. Lexington Herald-Leader

HARRODSBURG — The Mercer County mother who says her autistic son was put in a bag as a means of punishment asked the school board Thursday night to take immediate action to see that doesn't happen again.

Sandra Baker presented two boxes which she said contained 5,000 pages and 170,000 signatures from an online petition drive.

"The country has taken a stand with me," Baker told the board.

But while mindful of the "recent media attention" concerning Baker's 9-year-old son, Christopher, school board member Jim Stinnett read a written statement that said "the information being conveyed to the general public is not consistent with the evidence" collected by administrators.

Because of the constraints of a federal privacy act, "the school district is not at liberty to educate the public on the facts related to this situation involving an individual student and cannot correct mistaken conclusions which the general public have been led to draw from incomplete or inaccurate information," Stinnett said.

Baker said Christopher was stuffed into a duffel bag and the drawstring was pulled tight after he misbehaved Dec. 14 at Mercer County Intermediate School. School officials described the bag as a form of therapy and said it was not the first time they had put him in the bag.

Baker says she was unaware of the potential use of the bag because her son's Individualized Education Program — which outlines the special services children with disabilities will receive and measurable goals — did not include any reference to it.

"The plan did not say anywhere that he would be tied up in a bag and put in a hallway," Baker said in her statement to the school board. "What they did to Christopher was wrong. It would be wrong for anybody's child. To this day all that Christopher can say about what happened is, 'They put me in a bag.' And it breaks my heart to think he has been through this even once."

Baker has pulled her son out of school and said he won't go back until changes are made.

The case sparked an online petition drive at Change.org. The petition sought comprehensive training for school personnel and the disciplining of the teacher.

Stinnett, the school board member, made no mention of what action would be taken or had been taken. He said the Mercer district "is always open to a constructive dialogue with parents regarding the educational, behavioral and therapeutic service made available to their child."

"However, the school district is legally prohibited from engaging in that dialogue through the news media and in a public forum such as this open forum," Stinnett said.

He said the school district thinks "it had already addressed the situation before the matter ever became a national news story. As is often the case in specialized fields, things appear different to lay persons than they do to those trained and experienced in that area."

Meanwhile, special-education attorney James Gallini of Birmingham, Ala., said Thursday that he and Fort Mitchell attorneys Karen Ginn and Marianne Chevalier were preparing to file a complaint against the district in regard to the actions taken with Baker's son.

It was clear from Thursday night's board meeting at Mercer County Senior High School that people have different opinions about the incident and its fallout.

Parent Lori Wells spoke in support of Baker. Wells said a weighted vest was put on her son Deacon, who has a form of autism, when he was in preschool as a means to restrain and calm him, "kind of like a hug." Deacon is now in third grade. Although Wells didn't know the vest was going to be used, she did give her approval later. She said the district should let parents decide which methods to use.

Elementary school teacher Wilma Thomas was applauded when she spoke in defense of her colleague.

"The allegations brought against the teacher in question serve only the purpose of depriving students of an experienced, high-qualified individual," Thomas said. "The negative media reports have been fed by frustration, misunderstanding and a lack of communication. Our system is dedicated to meeting students at their level of need, and as members of this community, I challenge you to support our schools. Do not allow them to become targets of disrespect or rumor."

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