Tuesday, August 4, 2020
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Possible abuse of autistic students in Harford Co.

Charges have been made against Harford Co., Md., public schools that they aren’t taking proper care to educate kids with autism. Either teachers, who have since been dismissed or retired, were neglectful in working with autistic students, or they didn’t have the training required to know how to work with those students in Harford County schools.


Unrelated from Harford County: RDECOM scientists and engineers brought enthusiasm to STEM Night at Fallston Middle School for a night of interactive experiments and presentations in March 2012. (US Army RDECOM / Flickr CC)

After allegations of abuse were levied against elementary school teachers and staff in the district weeks ago, Superintendent Barbara Canavan defended the school system’s response to the treatment of autistic students at Hickory Elementary School during the 2014-15 school year, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Attorneys from the Maryland Disability Law Center said nine students in one class at Hickory suffered “pervasive and long-standing neglect” and that teachers and support staff used “aversive behavior intervention techniques.”

Parents are said to be outraged over the actions of teachers, WJZ-TV (CBS affiliate) reported. The Maryland State Education Association, a teachers’ union that represents teachers and support staff at the school, is also upset.

“We have to address the systemic failure,” the station quoted Ryan Burbey, president of the county teachers’ union as saying. “Mistakes were clearly made. Hopefully, the system has learned from the mistakes.”

That seems to be what’s happening, moving forward, and I also hope for the best. The Sun quoted Ms Canavan as saying about the alleged abuse at this week’s school board meeting, “It was not tolerated then … and won’t be tolerated in the future.” She went on to say that the schools would try to ensure every student is “able to work in a happy and productive place.”

One parent, however, whose child is autistic and, she says, did not receive the care needed at a Harford County school, decided to pull her child out to get the level of care required, especially for high-functioning students on the autism spectrum. Hilary Jenkins-Spangler said Harford County is behind the times when it comes to providing an education for autistic kids.

She writes on The Dagger:

The face of special needs has changed over the years. Intervention services are given to more general ed children with learning disabilities in reading (AKA Dyslexia, which [Harford County] does not recognize!). In fact Dyslexia affects a lot of children, which is interesting because Red Pump only has one teacher for 700 students who is trained in Wilson, a reading intervention program. Ironically, my son, who is also dyslexic, cannot get a reading specialist because he is in the special ed program and the special ed teacher, who is not trained in any reading intervention program, is his reading intervention teacher! …

I believe that the administrators believe they are doing a great job, but the problem is that they just reinforce one another’s reality. They seem to live in an insular and provincial world. What is their reference point for making such great progress and how is it measured?

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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