LOUISVILLE — The mother of an autistic boy who she says was stuffed in a duffel bag for misbehaving in class has pulled her son out of school. She insists if changes aren't made he's not going back.
Sandra Baker said that although classes resumed Tuesday in their Central Kentucky school district following the holiday break, she will home-school her 9-year-old son, Christopher.
Baker said she won't send the fourth-grader back to Mercer County Intermediate School in Harrodsburg until the staff is better trained to deal with children with developmental disabilities. She also insists that the teacher responsible be fired.
"It's going to have to change or he's not going back," she said.
Baker says she saw her son in a bag Dec. 14. Since then, the case has spurred an online petition drive.
The petition — started by Lydia Brown, an autistic Georgetown University freshman from Boston — has garnered 157,000 signatures, said Benjamin Joffe-Walt, a spokesman for petition Web site change.org.
"This campaign has resonated with people across the country," he said. "Without any funding or institutional support, in a matter of days, Lydia built a veritable movement of 150,000 people in all 50 states supporting a family she has never even met."
The petition mirrors Baker's demands for comprehensive training for school personnel and dismissal of the teacher.
Mercer County schools Interim Superintendent Dennis Davis did not immediately respond to a call and email.
Davis said last week that therapy for special-needs students is made at the school level in collaboration with licensed occupational and physical therapists. He said he could not discuss personnel matters, citing federal and state confidentiality laws.
Baker said school officials told her it was not the first time Chris had been put in a bag, and that it was described as a "therapy bag."
Baker said she found her son wiggling inside the bag as she walked toward her son's classroom. A teacher's aide stood by in the school hallway, she said. The family had received a call from the school informing them that Chris had been misbehaving.
The drawstring was pulled tight, but there was a small hole at the top of the bag, resembling a green Army duffel bag, she said.
As his classmates headed back to school, Chris stayed home and worked on reading, writing and math, his mother said. She talked of possibly hiring a tutor, but said she hopes home-schooling is a short-term practice.
She said her son told her he didn't want to go back to school, but she said he'll miss his friends.
"I would like for Christopher to be able to go back," Baker said. "But until they can get better training, and the teachers get taken care of, I don't feel like he's safe."
Chris returned to class for two of the four remaining school days before the holiday break.
Baker said she sent her son back because of truancy fears and so he could attend a holiday party. Chris' teacher reported he had "fantastic" days, but his mother sounded skeptical. "I wonder if all of a sudden he had a fantastic day," she said. "He may have."