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May 20th, 2009
11:36 AM ET

(UPDATE) Abuse of Special-Needs Children

This story drew a lot of attention - and some criticism - yesterday. Here are some excerpts from blog comments:

"Teachers aren’t psychologists or miracle workers ... So, gimme a break, and report the story even-handedly."

"These stories are tragic. Any death of a child is terrible. We are hearing one side of these stories. Remember everyone is consider Innocent until proven guilty."

"I viewed your report on the “Time-out” given to this autistic student with disgust. I have worked in classrooms with autistic and other learning disabilities. It is quite obvious you did not do your homework for this interview such as attend one or two classes that the students attend."

"I was more than a little disappointed with your dispassionate report on the case involving Toni Price. How could you not express outrage with this case? Sometimes, being an objective reporter should give way to being strong on child abuse, no matter where it comes from ... If you tell us a child has been murdered, at the very least, we’d like to know if WHY no one has been held accountable. If you don’t have the answers…GO GET THEM! That is a reporter’s job, with all due respect."

Guys, we want you to know that we always try to be even-handed and do our homework on the stories in our shows. Sometimes, behind-the-scenes stuff affects coverage in ways we didn't anticipate: a guest meant to provide the 'opposing' view cancels at the last minute, or Legal tells us we can't run a sensitive piece until more vetting's done. (BTW, the latter happened yesterday, minutes before we went to air.)

As for the last quote above, re: not enough outrage, I wish you'd been at our morning meeting! Kyra keeps her cool when she's sitting behind that anchor desk. But she's got very strong, personal feelings about this particular story - in fact, her mom is a retired Special Ed teacher.

We're going to keep pushing forward on this; this afternoon, we'll have an update on the teacher involved in the death of Toni Price's foster son, a live interview with a GAO director involved in that school abuse report, and a jaw-dropping piece from one of our Atlanta affiliates on an autistic boy's treatment. Tomorrow, we focus on all those teachers who are doing things the RIGHT way; you'll meet a South Carolina educator who started in the juvenile justice field, and now works with mentally disabled children.

Finally, anyone who wants to read the aforementioned GAO report, you can find it here. For info on seclusion and restraint laws in YOUR state, scroll to page 35.

Please do keep writing and telling us what you think about our coverage (of any story) - we welcome both cheers and constructive jeers!

Filed under: Behind the Camera... • Kyra Phillips • On TV
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. scott

    this abuse is disgusting and the people responsible should absolutely be put in jail.

    May 20, 2009 at 12:21 pm |
  2. John Wynne

    Teachers or any person in a professional capacity who abuse children, should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and not simply fired so they can move on to another job in the same field.
    There is never a reason to use violence to control a situation whatever the situation. In my former practice, I never had to even touch a person except to shake their hands. I worked with some of the most violent criminals and never considered the use of restraints. You use your skills to create a safe environment for everybody involved. If a teacher can't handle the load she/he is not able to work alone and needs to work as a part of a team.

    May 20, 2009 at 12:43 pm |
  3. Hannah

    I was in Special Ed. when I was in school and we where treated different then the other kids. i didnt think it was right then and i dont think its right now. something should be done about this soon. Children shouldnt have to die before something is done about issues like this, but Special -needs. kids always get the short end of the stick

    May 20, 2009 at 1:32 pm |
  4. Amelia

    While it's tragic what happened to the child who died, this is NOT
    and should not be described as 'abuse'. This is nothing more than
    teachers trying to maintain DISCIPLINE in their classrooms. What is a teacher supposed to do if a child, autistic or not, is acting out? I'll tell you. DISCIPLINE. What we need to do is throw out all the touchy-feely, 'soft' ways of handling these problems that so called 'experts' have cooked up over the last few decades and go back to what *worked* for our parents and grandparents. Good old fashioned DISCIPLINE. When I was in school, teachers and principals were still allowed to paddle students who broke the rules. We should reinstitute that. To those who say, 'it's not good for a child to fear authority figures' I say piffle. Perhaps a little fear of authority would go a long way to solving the problems in schools today.

    May 20, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  5. Leo

    In a country like the US, this abuse is inadmissible. With a democratic society where the judicial system works, it is incredible and nothing short of ludicrous that these teachers are still teaching. There's simply NO EXCUSE. The teachers should go to jail for a long time because no parent should EVER bury their children, especially if they require special needs.

    May 20, 2009 at 2:07 pm |
  6. Michelle Jenner

    Mis Treatment of any child at school is deplorable and there is NO justification what so ever. Does a mentally disabled child deserve to be hit or worse because they act out or dont sit still? Give me a break. What the hell is wrong with these so called teachers. There are ways to handle these issues. Getting physical with children is just wrong and yes the people that do this should be dismissed from their teaching assignments.

    May 20, 2009 at 2:13 pm |
  7. Norine Catalano

    Where is the national outrage on this issue? These are defenseless children. The people responsible for the abuse are not held accountable, yet when Michale Vick abused dogs, the nation wanted him executed. I do not condone what Mr. Vick did, it was disgraceful. But where is the outrage here, are defenseless children less important than defenseless dogs. Mr. Vick went to jail and lost everything. The teacher who was responsible for a child's death moved to another state, obtained another teaching job and only after the GAO informed the school system about her past, was she put on Administrative Leave, WITH PAY. Where is the accountability?

    May 20, 2009 at 2:17 pm |
  8. David Dixon

    It is very disturbing that this happens at all and even more disturbing that the perpetrators are to keep their jobs or get new ones teaching. The one teacher mentioned in the article now in VA is now on paid administrative leave (paid vacation). She should be in jail.

    My 5th grade teacher used to lock us in the closet in the dark if we were "bad". This was not a special needs classroom. The teacher stopped doing it after I (accidentally) brought it to the Principal & my mother's attention. One problem was that none of the kids knew it was wrong for the teacher to be doing it.

    And in 8th grade when I lived in Murrells Inlet SC the principal had a large paddle that could be used on "bad" kids. Fortunately I never experienced that.

    Chris Cejas Network To End Child Abuse

    May 20, 2009 at 2:20 pm |
  9. Liz

    Kudos to Kyra Phillips and CNN for championing abused and bullied children! Thank you for giving a voice to victimized children, whose voices otherwise seem not to be heard. Abuse is unacceptable, of course, and also injustice is especially difficult for children; adults fail them and the world fails them. So thank you for supporting the children.

    May 20, 2009 at 2:22 pm |
  10. Bea Royal

    The GAO rep. said he wasn't aware of any state cutting "special Education" funds. I believe if you check the proposed budget for Georgia by Gov Purdue you'll see that it is one of the main line items to be reduced and /or done away with. California may be a close second.

    May 20, 2009 at 2:26 pm |
  11. josh

    as much is i think chemo will help the boy, i think its not the courts call to make. poor kid

    May 20, 2009 at 2:47 pm |
  12. R jordan

    I am a JW and want people to know that we want a Dr to do everything to save a life. There are so many alternitives to blood that are so much safer. The bible says abstain from blood and that means your vains too. God knows what he is talking about, He made us

    May 20, 2009 at 2:52 pm |
  13. Kelli

    I think it is so sad that Daniel and his Mother had to leave their home, and family & go into hiding just because their belief system is different from those who want to pump him full of medicine that has proven to cause hair loss, painful, & severe nausea, lethargy, and sometimes, still death. Chemo may be the only treatment for cancer at this time, but people who go through this, and survive don't necessarily have a better quality of life. God is the only one who can give and take away, and if Daniel was meant to die from cancer, no amount of treatment will make him better. God is using Daniel and his family as an instrument to wake people up...We are not in charge! Let those parents deal with their son's sickness in whatever way they choose. They are a Christian and faithful family, and God will lead them to do the right thing. They love their son, and only want what is best for him. This country is way too full of chiefs, and not enough indians. Let the one who can do all, be in charge. Start trusting in Him for everything, and all this sickness and pain will go away. I wish I could do more, but I am only one person. Please read my comment on air....maybe it will be a start.

    May 20, 2009 at 2:52 pm |
  14. Charlotte

    As a former teacher, daughter and mother of teachers, I would like to comment on the issue of abuse of special needs children. While I am not IN ANY WAY condoning abuse of children, special or otherwise, I might suggest that at least part of this problem is being caused by "mainstreaming", the practice of putting special needs kids in the regular classroom, a situation which has been demanded by the parents.

    I believe that children who have obstacles to learning do better with other children with obstacles. We educators blather on and on about "self esteem" and I would opine that those special needs students might have better self esteem if they were competing with like-developed others. I certainly do not suggest that "warehousing" is a solution, but isn't there a happy medium between warehousing and mainstreaming?

    I also find it hard to believe that most teachers who are accused of abuse and even murder are never charged. Did you check this fact thoroughly? When a teacher is hired, a criminal background check is performed, so that would be reported to the hiring principal.

    Teachers are under enormous pressure to perform, all the while having to teach to all levels of kids' abilities. Having substituted for teachers, I am appalled by the amount of time spent on discipline, paperwork and everything else under the sun which isn't actually instruction. You made the statement that "teachers aren't equipped to deal with" special needs. Of course not. They are trained as classroom teachers. There are angels we call special needs teachers who receive training to address those kids.

    Just a few minutes ago, you reported that California is considering raising the number of students per classroom to 50!!! What do you want to bet that at least 10 of those students will be special needs? What are the classroom teachers going to do then? Not to mention that, although not the majority, there are a minority of students called special needs who are "behavior disordered." These are frequently students who haven't been taught to behave and they have found that they get way more attention than the student who behaves him/herself and does his/her own work. They, sadly, are ignored.

    This is not, I repeat, not an excuse for abuse of children, and I find the story about the 7-year-old who was put in time out for 2 1/2 hours deplorable. But if we are going to increase class sizes and take away the one discipline teachers have left, then we will continue to see these stories of abuse. Better to, not segregate, but have special needs teachers do what they do best and leave the classroom teacher to deal a narrower spectrum of abilities.

    I am very curious as to why CNN seems obsessed with autism by the way. When I was in college a billion years ago, I studied abnormal psychology and saw a few examples of autistic children. (Recognizing that this doesn't make me an expert!)

    The children I saw were all withdrawn and non-engaged. Nowadays, one sees "autistic" children who are abnormally engaged. In fact, in many of the numerous cases you have featured in the past, the child is agressive, obnoxious and behaves like a spoiled brat. Could the rise in autism be a misdiagnosis problem? Perhaps the psychologists don't know what to do with these behaviorially challenged children, so they lump them into autism.

    I do not mean to belittle anyone here, but rather to raise some thoughtful questions and hope that those dealing with this issue will look at a myriad of solutions.

    May 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm |
  15. Kelli

    Again, put God in charge....let Him back in our schools, and our children will be safe again. He is trying to tell us, people, why won't you listen? How many more have to die?

    May 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm |
  16. Janet


    Somebody needs to investigate the worthless Special Ed Dept. in
    Indianapolis, IN. I have a family member who received all F's in the 8th grade and reading at a 4th grade level .They passed the child on to High School. (North Central). The have suspended and label this child which has effective the child to include the mental and verbal abuse from the Resource Teacher. The teacher busted the child lip, lied and said the child push him no investigation, and the child was suspended. My daughter file a complaint with the Dept. Of Ed (State). The school (North Central High School), was found noncomplaince in 3 areas.
    They need to pay for private tutoring to bring the child up to standard.
    The Supervisor over Special Ed and The School Superident need to be fired.

    May 20, 2009 at 3:26 pm |
  17. LAMB

    Abuse isn't just in the special needs Kyra. My then 5 year old son was told to sit on the black tar in 90 degree weather for all of his recess because he didn't engage in class. He came home and he was over heated urine was dark and the teachers only response was – it worked. It didn't work all he learned and all they taught him was not to rely on the school for help. We have since found he is a child although very smart was later diagnosed ADD and dyslexic. To this day he is (3 yrs later) stilll experiencing problems getting help from the schools.

    May 20, 2009 at 4:26 pm |
  18. Cailet

    Amelia –

    You're an idiot. You don't beat special needs children with paddles to discipline them for things they cannot control. They can't help the symptoms of their disease, and they have no control over them.

    These "touchy feely soft ways to handle children" cooked up by "experts"? They were developed by intelligent, experienced professionals who researched the different methods and what worked, and what didn't.

    Here's an idea – instead of spouting out an uninformed opinion, think before you type. We're not talking about a smart mouthed kid in 5th grade who tells his teacher to shove it – we're talking about children who have a hard time with the world around us because they were born with a disease. They don't deserve to be beaten or abused, they deserve patience, understanding, and someone willing to see past their conditions and complications to the human beings they still are.

    Most people don't deserve a child as beautiful as these children are.

    May 20, 2009 at 4:53 pm |
  19. Cailet

    Also, Charlotte, what you're referring to is called inclusion, not mainstreaming. And what you have to consider is that when these children are around other typical healthy children their own age, they mimic them. Their abnormal behaviors lessen, they pay attention better, and they learn more.

    When special ed kids are only allowed to be in the classroom with other special ed children, they tend to feed off each other, and can at times make their symptoms and problems much worse.

    I agree that the classroom sizes are too large, but there is the middle ground that you're asking for. In my own observations, the best method is to allow a special needs child to attend an hour or two in a regular ed classroom, accompanied by an aide equipped to help him. The child gets the benefit of the instruction and influence of the regular ed kids, and the teacher doesn't have to worry about dealing with any behaviors that come up, due to the present of the aide.

    The difference in the children who are allowed to participate in inclusion and the ones who are not is huge. I'm sure most school systems would have a hard time affording extra aides for this purpose – except there are state laws requiring a certain ratio of aides to special needs children. They shouldn't have to pay more people than they already are – they just have to be willing to put the program in place and get the regular ed teachers on board. (Many are extremely resistant to dealing with the special needs children, and tend to be unwilling to practice inclusion.)

    I know these things can be done, and done well. There's a woman out there right now, in a school system that is implementing this program to amazing results.

    May 20, 2009 at 5:07 pm |


    May 20, 2009 at 9:42 pm |
  21. Cecilia Bruck

    You would think that as a parent and a taxpayer you might have a say in how children are treated and taught in our Public School System. You do. Problem is you have to mount an all out campaign to have that say. If the teachers or administrators do not like what you propose for whatever reason, or if you raise to much fuss, they will target you and your children until you either shut up or leave. How else could this type of insane behavior go on continously over these many, many years. The public is just hearing these things now, how can that be? It is time to pass laws that protect families and children, not administrators and teachers. It is time to put the children first!!

    May 21, 2009 at 8:45 am |
  22. Charlotte

    To Cailet's comment:
    Perhaps another issue, which I didn't discuss in my other post, is that we lump all "special needs" children into one group. It includes autism, mental retardation, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, ADHD and behavior disordered! Talk about a wide range of needs and ways of learning!

    So yes, I have seen an accompanying aide work with the child in the classroom and it seems to work for certain types of disorders. But for the BD kids, not so much.

    May 21, 2009 at 9:00 am |
  23. angela charette

    These children don't choose the behavior and discipline is not the answer. There are many methods that work but they take time and schools resort to discipline because they can't be bothered to do the work.
    My autistic dauther has been restrained because she tried to escape. She has been taunted, abused and isolated. She has had felony assault charges pressed against her for throwing a book at her teacher. The teacher wasn't even hurt as per own "Victim Impact Statement". The school has a police officer on campus who is paid by them to do their bidding. Charging an 11 autistic child with a felony when no one was hurt does not change the child's behavior the only purpose it serves is to remove the child to a discipline school where the school doesn't have supply services. It works for the school. The parents are stuck with thousands in legal bills and usually remove the child from the school which also works for the school.
    It is intimidation and abuse. In our case we know our rights and request the school follow the law. They don't like parents who advocate and they retaliate.
    Those who don't have a special needs child always have opinions. Until you are in my boat don't judge.
    This current method doesn't work for the child, the parents or the teachers who know in their hearts this is wrong. No one has the time or money to fight and it continues.
    Good luck and thank your lucky stars for neurotypical children.

    May 21, 2009 at 12:26 pm |
  24. Patty

    Please keep reporting these things. Maybe there will be more expected and training of individuals who are teaching or helping our kids with disabilities. It makes my stomach churn. The bottom line it is always about money why we can't help our kids more, why we put too many kids in one class with few teachers/aides, why we just let the kids watch cartoons instead of learning, and why there are such low expectations of our children. Even the great teachers out there are getting burned out. We need more accountability across the board for our teachers and staff who work with children with UNIQUE ABILITIES.

    May 21, 2009 at 2:09 pm |
  25. GrammaKnows

    For those who advocate physical punishment as a solution for special needs children:
    There are always medical issues behind the problems. Why aren't you advocating just as strongly to use corporal punishment to solve the problems of diabetes and cancer? Because it's STUPID. Big people hitting little people is ALWAYS wrong. Hitting and physical punishment for a medical condition is criminal.

    For those who advocate segregation when the students can actually learn and function with proper education:
    Welcome to the real world. It's made up of people with all kinds of abilities and disabilities. If there is a student who needs additional help, that's what one-on-one aides are for. Advocate for the addition of aides and classroom help, not for discrimination and segregation.

    For those who are in the classroom and think it is all about "them" and not about the medical manifestations of special needs – quit your job and go elsewhere. A yr old, 6 yr old 11 or 15 yr old with a disability doesn't deserve to be the center of your egomaniacal constructs. Every classroom teacher should be grilled with a psych exam yearly to weed out these creeps who hide behind the closed doors of classrooms. Licensure should depend on training AGAINST this kind of behavior and EVERY classroom should have hidden cameras.

    It's time to strip the nasty scab off what goes on in our classrooms once and for all. Get on the phone to your state & federal legislative representatives and DEMAND proper training, proper screening, proper staffing levels and surveillance of those who come in contact with our children.

    May 22, 2009 at 5:53 am |
  26. Angie

    I feel that if you work with special needs children you should be held to a higher standard. These kids cannot speak for themselves in most cases. The abuse of any child is horrible and it should not go unpunished. For the teachers to still be working after such an incident is a crime in itself.

    May 22, 2009 at 2:45 pm |
  27. Angela

    I know that children with certain disabilities are targeted within the Oklahoma City Public Schools, to the point that instead of cleaning the district up and providing the education our children are entitled to, they do anything and everything that they can to get the children out of their schools. Capitol Hill High School is one of the worse when it comes to Special Education Children.
    My son was one of the more unfortuneate ones within the Oklahoma City Public Schools, they refused to enroll him at all, and he lost his education.
    The whole Special Education Department in Oklahoma is so corrupt, that requesting a Due Process is merely asking the State Department to cover the school district's errors up.


    May 25, 2009 at 11:47 pm |
  28. Elizabeth Brown

    Children with disablities are entitled to a proper classroom setting as any other child. This is a need, but most importantly it is a right. A right that has been set out in law of this land. How dare a person to say this is a one-sided story as if the other side will in some way lessen the fate of death to the child. This child was certain a victim of torture in the worse way, he felt like he was dying and he did die.

    City and states are out there placing blue lights to catch drivers speeding and mailing tickets left and right to the automobile owners caught on tape. Well, it is my opinion, while the cities and states do not stand to gain additional monies to misapropriate, they do have the chance to give a child with special needs a chance to acquire as near a normal education as possible, and it serves notice to the teacher and staff they can not mistreat the children.

    Come on people, children are not just dying at the hands of sex offenders but by their own parents and teachers. Commit to stamping out murder of our children.

    May 26, 2009 at 2:45 am |
  29. kathy

    This reply or comment is in regards to Emilia. NO, should we allow our children to be punished by school employees. They are hired to teach not to discipline. The lady who posted that we should do so is ridiculously brainwashed into thinking that discipline should be enforced at school. If behavior is an issue, let it be known to the parent. A Mothere, here of a special needs child with autism. If you were the same, I am sure your opinion would vary. Shame on you !!

    June 6, 2009 at 11:29 pm |
  30. Autisticmom

    A 6 feet tall teacher weighting 230 lbs sat on a autistic child in Virginia High School to the point that he was suffocated to death. ???
    The teacher got an administrative leave ???..... Four teenagers rape another teenager with a broomstick and a Hockey stick in Walker Middle School, Odessa Florida. Now that ,is worse than terrorism. Way to go americans
    Question: How can you called yourselves a first world country ? Ah??

    June 8, 2009 at 12:04 pm |