Working with children takes patience and skills that not everyone has.
When children have behavioral or developmental problems, those qualities
are even more important. Some believe we are setting these children up
for abuse by putting low-paid workers in their classrooms. Several recent
stories in the news lend credibility to this argument.
Recently, two paraprofessionals at Harper-Archer Middle School in Atlanta
were caught abusing special education students on camera. They were seen
in the video lifting the students out of their chairs, choking them, and
throwing them on the floor. An attorney for the two children said the
video doesn't indicate they were misbehaving or that the abuse was
in any way warranted.
National Disability Rights Network says paraprofessionals have low pay
and high turnover.
There's no doubt that working with special education children takes
a certain type of person. But these patient and skilled professionals
are in high demand and short supply. Instead, schools hire paraprofessionals
who often lack training for the positions. Further, the low pay and high
stress leads to high turnover.
MyAJC.com reports the Atlanta teacher involved in the abuse video initially set
up the camera to catch the paraprofessionals "not doing their jobs".
She didn't expect to see them abusing the students. Immediately after
discovering what was happening in her absence, she reported the abuse.
Often, there is no video, merely a scared child and parents confused about
what to do next.
in Chicago, students in a special education classroom began showing signs of abuse.
Bruises, scratches, and drawings made by fearful children all pointed
to someone at the school hurting them, but the teacher and aides said
the injuries came from other students or accidents.
One mother reported coming to pick up her child from school for a doctor's
appointment and having her son scurry to hide behind her when she arrived
in the classroom.
Eventually, after numerous complaints, the teacher was removed by the school
system, though no charges were filed and no one is certain to this day
Because so many of these children are nonverbal or have difficulty communicating,
it can be hard to know when abuse is going on.
Disabled children are more at risk of abuse.
Abusers often take advantage of the fact that disabled children can't
fight back or can't talk about the abuse. When paired with the stress
of working in a special education classroom, someone already prone to
violence can become uncontrollable.
Some experts say that parents of the disabled are also less likely to speak with their
children about abuse. This can lead an abused child to feel responsible
when abuse does happen.
The symptoms of abuse, like physical injuries and behavioral problems,
aren't uncommon in disabled children and they may be chalked up to
the child's diagnosis rather than abuse.
In general, children have to depend on adults for structure, protection,
and leadership. This is especially true in a special education setting,
where children may also depend on their teachers and teacher aides for
basic needs like moving, feeding, and helping them use the restroom. When
staffed with underpaid and undertrained "professionals", these
classrooms can easily become the scene of abuse and mistreatment.
If you suspect abuse of your special needs child, do not wait for the situation
to escalate before taking action. The parents of an abused child may have
legal rights to file a civil lawsuit in Florida to hold a teacher and
school system accountable for the abuse. A Florida
personal injury attorney can explain your legal options at no charge.