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Wake County, NC: Judge rules against school for illegally restraining elem student

August 7, 2021, WRAL, Raleigh, NC: Judge: Apex school illegally restrained disabled elementary student

The Wake County Public School System must pay for a child's private schooling and provide extra academic, behavioral and speech services for violating state and federal laws governing the education of students with disabilities, a state judge has ruled. A school district spokesman said Friday that the district plans to appeal the ruling, which was handed down last week by Administrative Law Judge Stacey Bawtinhimer. Staff in the Emotional Behavior Support program at Scotts Ridge Elementary School physically restrained and forced a student into a closet at least 24 times from 2017 to 2019, according to Stacey Gahagan, an attorney for the student's family. The actions were for "minor behaviors such as flipping the markers on her desk, tipping back in her chair or grabbing her teacher's arm," she said. After noticing the student was becoming more anxious, the family reported their concerns to school staff, Gahagan said, but the staff deceived the parents with "incomplete and often false information." The staff told the family that the student had access to a quiet room, which they described as a "safe, calming space to self-regulate," according to Gahagan. But she said the room was actually a closet in the teacher's lounge, where staff would put the student and hold the door closed to prevent her from leaving. On Feb. 21, 2019, another parent filmed the student protesting while being picked up and carried out of the cafeteria by staff. The video was sent to the student's parents. The student's father then notified the principal of the Apex school and Superintendent Cathy Moore. Scotts Ridge Elementary administrators told the parents that restraint and seclusion were “critical to the success” and an “integral part” of the EBS program, which "could not be implemented with fidelity without the use of seclusion and restraint.” State law says that parents be notified about seclusion that goes over 10 minutes or the amount of time specified on the student's behavior intervention plan. State law also says that parents be notified about the seclusion by the end of the workday when the incident happened, if possible, but no later than the following workday. The student's parents said they weren't notified of the times when their child was restrained, Gahagan said. Instead, they received her daily point sheets, which stated that the child went to time-out or the quiet room, and the staff never used the word "seclusion" on the sheets, she said…. Bawtinhimer ordered the district to reimburse the parents for private school tuition they've paid since pulling the student out of Scotts Ridge Elementary, pay for or provide 150 hours of compensatory math instruction and 105 hours of compensatory instruction in other core classes, pay for two years of counseling provided to the student and pay for or provide two years of speech and language therapy.


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