Any parent of a child with a disability will tell you that teachers are either saving graces without whom nothing would be possible, or a parent’s worst nightmare who fails to adapt to the needs of teaching a child who is differently abled.
A few weeks ago, a particular case went viral. Rosa Johnson is a student with severe cerebral palsy that leaves her little control of her body. Rosa’s mother Doreen had sent her to a school for students with special needs near their home in Ann Arbor, MI, where Doreen believed her daughter would be getting the best care available. However, in early November 2017, Doreen received a message from her daughter’s teacher that read “She won’t be quiet!!!!” accompanied by an image of Rosa’s mouth taped shut with blue painter’s tape. Doreen immediately looked for legal counsel and soon learned that Rosa had also been subject to other instances of abuse and neglect, including having been locked in a closet and having been slapped by a school bus driver.
As far as the US has come in our care of the physically and cognitively disabled, there are still lots of areas for improvement, and some cases continue to fall through the cracks. Lucky, the advent of the smartphone has made it easier for classmates and other adults to capture evidence of abuse, but that in and of itself won’t fix the problem. In the event that you or a loved one finds yourself in a situation where you have to investigate the way an adult or superior is treating a subordinate or student with special needs inappropriately, there are a couple of best practices you can follow.
Firstly, as Doreen did, immediately seek legal counsel. For a case as egregious as Doreen and Rosa’s, lawyers are likely to take it on pro-bono and help you find restorative justice and ensure that all liable parties are held accountable for their actions and missteps.
You can also start to collect “evidence” that may prove useful in establishing a pattern of abuse and neglect. Anyone who has spent time watching Law and Order will well know the importance of having documentation, pictures, doctors’ reports, etc., that provide concrete proof that something was amiss in the school. As tedious and uncomfortable as it may be, go back through your emails, texts, smartphone pictures, and conversations with friends.
Even if you can’t win in state or federal court, you can often win in the court of public opinion. With the blessing of your legal counsel, you can write about what happened and publish it on social media, on your blog, or try to get your story to run in a newspaper or magazine. Perhaps others will come forward with similar stories and you can spare another family the heartache and trouble that you’ve had to endure.