LANCASTER – The parents of a disabled student, who formerly attended Lancaster High School, are seeking to negotiate a settlement with the Antelope Valley Union High School District after discovering the student was allegedly “roughed up” by a special education teacher, an attorney for the family said.
The special education student, Carlisa, who was 17 at the time, was allegedly dragged by her ankles on the floor by the teacher after purportedly acting up at Lancaster High in January 2014, according to a sheriff’s investigation.
Surisa Rivers, who is representing the family, said a resolution meeting with the school district on Monday (Sept. 28) did not come close to addressing the parents’ concerns over the alleged physical and emotional abuse done to their daughter.
“The parents and I are very concerned that [the teacher] is allowed to continue teaching severely disabled, nonverbal students who are unable to speak out against the abuse,” Rivers told The AV Times.
Rivers is attempting to negotiate a settlement of the family’s “special education due process complaint,” but she said the school district “has completely ignored their request to [openly] investigate” the alleged incident of abuse or share any information with the family.
“Under the [uniform complaint] procedures they are supposed to follow the law, and they’re supposed to do some type of investigation, and fact finding, and a list of who they questioned,” Rivers said, noting that the district’s investigation would be independent of the Sheriff’s findings. “And now that [the school district’s counsel] has completely taken over the investigation, pretty much everything they did can be … considered [client-attorney] privileged. They did not tell us from the outset that they were going to do this. To me, this sends up red flags once again.”
Bridget Cook, General Counsel for the Antelope Valley Union High School District, told The AV Times on Tuesday that she would not respond to questions about the district’s position on the case or disclose information regarding the teacher accused of the abuse, saying: “I’m sorry, the district does not comment on potential or pending litigation.”
The family found out about the alleged abuse only after a nurse working with Lancaster High disabled students came forward with the allegations – nearly 10 months after the reported incident.
Carlisa is described in the Sheriff’s investigative report as a non-verbal special needs student who must be fed through a Gastrostomy Tube (G-tube), which is inserted through her abdomen to feed her nutrition directly.
According to the Oct. 8, 2014, suspected child abuse report obtained by The AV Times, a licensed vocational nurse, who provided Gastrostomy Tube (G-tube) services and medication to disabled students at the school, told an investigator from the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station that she witnessed alleged incidents in January 2014 believed to be “out of line or over the top in regard to the controlling of two disabled students.”
In one such incident, the nurse watched the teacher “grab Carlisa by both her ankles and walk backward, pulling Carlisa toward the doorway,” the Sheriff’s investigator reported, saying the witness believes the disabled student “was pulled approximately 10 feet on her buttocks.”
The witness told the investigator that though she was aware the student is capable of “violent, aggressive outburts” when upset, that the teacher’s actions were inappropriate and “she would have handled it another way.”
The Sheriff’s investigator also contacted the teacher in question, who told authorities that he did not recall the specific incident, but did say that “he has at times moved Carlisa to the mats located along the classroom walls by way of pulling her by her feet … and was done in such a way as to not be kicked himself and not injure Carlisa,” the investigator said in his report.
The Sheriff’s investigator concluded in his report that he did not believe any “malicious intent is present,” and that “no proof or presence of injury is present in regard to the allegations.”
Though she was not notified about the purported incident until allegations were raised by the nurse, Denise Ware, Carlisa’s mother, believes proof of the abuse is evident in the “rug burn scars” on Carlisa’s back – as well as the emotional scars that reveal a noticeable difference in her daughter’s behavior.
“Carlisa is very withdrawn now,” Ware told The AV Times. “She doesn’t associate with us anymore. And I thought it was because of her disability, but now I come to find out it’s because of what was going on with the school.”
Ware also defends how her daughter’s behavior was characterized as “violent or aggressive” in the Sheriff’s report.
“Carlisa has never done anything like this in the new school, so why all of a sudden is there a change now?” her mother asked. “She was in [the teacher’s] class for three and a half years, and I never got one report that she was doing this. She’s a good student.”
Though the school district denied the family’s special education due process complaint – which covers alleged violations relating to the district’s failure to provide appropriate education – the attorney for the parents said she will continue pursuing the case with a civil lawsuit to be filed in mid-October.
“I didn’t get a good feeling [Monday] with the resolution meeting,” Rivers said. “I think we’re going to just have to move forward with litigation.”