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Palmetto, FL: Elem school fails to provide support for violent ASD student

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Jan 31, 2023, ABC7 Sarasota, FL: Parents clash with school district over violent incidents at Blackburn Elementary

Two parents are speaking out sharing their frustration with the School District of Manatee County after a long series of violent encounters between students at Blackburn Elementary pushed them to the breaking point.

Stephanie Rose’s daughter remembers the day she was suddenly attacked by a boy diagnosed with autism at school. “He was like punching me in the head and kicking me in the back,” she said. ABC7 is not using her name to protect her identity.

Rose’s daughter recalls that the boy quickly became angry during recess and began lashing out at other kids, chasing them at random. She claims the boy eventually turned on her, knocking her to the ground and kicking her repeatedly until she lost her breath.

Her mother shared photos of the bruises with ABC7, describing how shocked she was to learn about what happened to her daughter.

“This wasn’t just a push or a kick,” Rose said. “He beat her for a good minute.”

Determined to prevent this from happening again, Rose said she met with Blackburn’s principal, who initially promised to keep the two kids in separate classrooms. However, only a few days later the boy became angry again and started throwing wood blocks at the other students who fled to corners of the room to get away as the teacher shielded them with her body.

“Then he started throwing them everywhere and one of them went on my leg,” Rose’s daughter said.

The girl said her teacher tried to deescalate the situation, only to be punched in the face by the boy....

Furious, Rose said she had repeated conversations through the hierarchy of Blackburn’s administration and the School District of Manatee County, trying to understand how this could have happened twice in the same week. She described how she was met with mixed messages and inaction for weeks.

Even more troubling, Rose said throughout this period her daughter suffered from repeated nightmares about the incidents and was anxious about going back to school.

“Just being so young and having to witness these types of things, especially at a place where you’re supposed to feel the safest,” rose said. “That’s very sad to me.”

Unsure what else to do, Rose decided to make her family’s situation public in an effort to spur action. She hung a large sign on a chain-link fence down the street from Blackburn which writes “Time to Put to Rest Manatee County Schools Silence to Violence” with a QR code linking onlookers to a Facebook page created for parents to share problems and brainstorm solutions.

Weeks later, Rose learned she wasn’t the only parent unsatisfied with the district. Amber Pieterzack, the mother of the boy who allegedly attacked her daughter, connected with her online to share her side of the story.

“I as a parent feel I have my hands tied because I’m doing everything in my power and they just are not working with me,” Pieterzack told ABC7 in an interview.

Pieterzack chose to share her history with the School District of Manatee County as well and, like Rose, she expressed frustration that her child’s needs were not being met.

She explained her son is autistic and she believes he needs a paraprofessional with him throughout the school day to give him a sense of support and calm, so violent incidents aren’t triggered. For a year and a half, she’s had a series of meets with members of the district advocating for that extra help but has been repeatedly denied.

She said she feels for Rose’s daughter and any other kids troubled by her son’s actions. “I feel so much hurt toward my child because he doesn’t deserve this and neither do the other kids in his classroom,” Pieterzack said. “They don’t deserve this at all.”…

“There’s nothing on paper, from him punching his pregnant teacher on the first day of school to assaulting his music teacher to hitting other children,” she said. “They documented nothing.”

That’s proved to be a serious problem for the Pieterzack family. She explained that when she goes to the district once again request paraprofessional support, she’s told there is not enough documentation to justify the additional resource.

It’s important to note districts are not required to assign paraprofessionals in every case. According to the Brain Recovery Project, a student must be evaluated and then a professional can be assigned based if the district thinks that the resource is needed.

The Pieterzacks did get some hope in December when the district decided to move her son to another elementary school with a specialized program. However, the boy still had several outbursts just in the first week. His mother firmly believes this is because the new program still didn’t include a paraprofessional.

For more than a year, Pieterzack has become increasingly disappointed with the district and eventually resolved to find another way out: leaving the county entirely. Her family has packed their bags to another Florida district where they hope their son can get the resources they’re seeking.

As for Rose, she is keeping her daughter at Blackburn but has made it her mission to press the district for transparency….

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