Tag Archives: Special Needs

WHEN RACE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE SAFETY OF SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN

The Great Divide
9 takeaways from Boston’s investigation into Mission Hill School; DA reviewing

SUFFOLK COUNTY, MA  –  A blistering investigation released this week revealed institutional failures that endangered children for years at Boston’s Mission Hill K-8 School, including overlooked reports of sexual abuse and bullying.

Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden on Thursday said his office is reviewing the report for “any crimes or incidents where mandatory reporting of sexual assault allegations did or did not occur.”

The report spurred Superintendent Brenda Cassellius to take the extraordinary step of recommending the school’s closure at the end of the academic year in June.  The Boston School Committee will vote on the closure May 5.

“This is the stuff of nightmares,” Mayor Michelle Wu said Thursday on GBH News, pledging accountability in BPS.

Many parents have continued to defend the school.

Here are nine key takeaways from the report:

1.  The school ‘systematically failed to protect students’ from sexual abuse, investigators found

The 189-page report by the law firm Hinckley Allen was sparked by complaints from parents that Mission Hill officials were ignoring their concerns about bullying, and separately, allegations by five families that one student had repeatedly sexually abused their children.

Investigators found the school “systematically failed to protect students” from sexual abuse by neglecting to document, investigate, or address allegations.  The school’s lacking response to sexual abuse allegations went far beyond a case in which BPS in August agreed to pay a $650,000 settlement to five Mission Hill families who said their six young children were repeatedly sexually abused by the same student and administrators failed to adequately act.

Investigators blamed much of the school’s problems on a former administrator they labeled “MH Admin 3.”  That administrator’s tenure coincided with Ayla Gavins, who served as principal for 12 years until summer 2019.  She did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The report details witnesses’ accounts of the principal’s response to the case of the student identified in court records as “A.J.,” who was accused in the families’ lawsuit of inappropriately touching fellow students and digitally penetrating one from 2014 to 2016.  Gavins told parents who complained they should “pull their kids out” and that A.J. “had a right to be” there, the report says.  A staffer recalled employees also voiced concerns that the student would be criminalized because he was Black, the report says.

The investigation found Mission Hill failed to complete official incident reports for at least 20 incidents of sexual misconduct allegations against A.J. and at least another 40 incidents of sexually inappropriate behaviors involving the school’s other students from 2013 to 2021.

The report says the failure to document sexual conduct was “an intentional by-product” of Gavins’s efforts to protect students of color.

2.  A ‘persistent and well-documented bullying problem’

Investigators concluded Mission Hill had a “persistent and well-documented bullying problem” that ballooned due to the school’s “hands-off attitude” which “taught students to protect themselves by being abusive.”

Mission Hill School’s failure to implement standard disciplinary procedures led to a rise in bullying that was “largely unaddressed” by Gavins, according to the report.  Investigators wrote that Gavins often paid “lip service” to handling serious bullying incidents.

Parents told investigators that Gavins avoided giving direct answers to safety questions and accused white parents of being racist or hostile when they advocated for their child’s safety.

3.  Special education failures

The school also failed to properly provide special education services due to its philosophy that “each child is special and learns at their own pace,” investigators found, leading to students’ learning challenges going unaddressed.

The report found that students with disabilities — who make up one-third of the school were likely failed in many ways, including the school’s practice of removing disruptive children for “what was effectively babysitting in another room.”

4.  BPS was aware of Mission Hill’s problems for years

Over the six years before the investigation, BPS received multiple complaints from parents and investigated several internally.  In 2015, BPS hired attorney Joseph Coffey to investigate allegations.  Coffey found Gavins failed to provide specialized instruction by special education teachers, allowed improper restraints of children, created a culture of intimidation, and asked staff to “misrepresent” the school’s English as a Second Language services, the report says.

From 2014 to 2017, the report says, BPS received numerous complaints reporting sexual misconduct at the school.  Coffey’s 2015 report cited concerns by a staff member who reported incidents involving A.J. in a staff meeting and recommended the student be evaluated, but Gavins allegedly refused due to concerns about Black boys being “over diagnosed” with disabilities.

In August, a parent told Cassellius that six employees in the superintendent’s office failed to act despite knowing that the school inadequately responded to reports of abuse, assaults, and bullying.

5.  Three key e-mail accounts deleted during investigation

The report suggested some school employees put their self-interests before that of children, including by using a separate e-mail server and deleting at least three key employee e-mail accounts while the school was under investigation.

6.  Cultural problems cited

Investigators said they found a “cult-like” climate at the academically struggling school, which espoused its philosophy as the unique “Mission Hill Way,” and an intolerance of dissent that ostracized employees and parents who voiced concerns.

7.  Retaliation concerns

Parents said staffers who raised concerns were fired or pressured to leave.  Several parents told investigators that the school fired an employee because the employee filed a “51A” report to the Department of Children and Families against A.J. in November 2014, which the parents felt disobeyed Gavins’s “view of keeping matters in-house,” the report says.

Although the employee reported leaving for other reasons, the employee also described being pushed out by Gavins and enduring a “pattern of hostility by [Gavins] and long-term teachers,” the report says.

8.  Academic failings

Investigators concluded that Mission Hill failed to provide rigorous academic instruction in math, writing, literacy, and science.

The school focused on literacy for marginalized students, but often didn’t recognize that students from all backgrounds struggled, investigators wrote.

9.  Gender-nonconforming students bullied

Investigators found the school fostered a culture that “allowed increased bias and discrimination” toward transgender and gender-nonconforming students.  One parent told investigators the school “allowed a culture” where transgender students were beaten up in the bathroom.  Investigators wrote they found evidence Gavins “showed an unwillingness” to address concerns raised about these students.

The Great Divide is an investigative team that explores educational inequality in Boston and statewideSign up to receive our newsletter, and send ideas and tips to thegreatdivide@globe.com.

FL Special Needs Teacher Arrested For Child Abuse

.jpg photo of teacher arrested for child abuse of special needs children
Graciela Reyes-Marino

Special Education Teacher at Miami
School Facing Child Abuse,
Neglect Charges

MIAMI, FL  –   A special education teacher at a Miami elementary school is facing charges after police said she punched a student and shoved another.

Graciela Reyes-Marino, a teacher at Auburndale Elementary, was arrested Thursday on aggravated child abuse and child neglect charges, an arrest report said.

The report said earlier this month a boy in Reyes-Marino’s class had been crying and screaming when she allegedly grabbed him by the wrist and shoved him into a bathroom corridor.

She then closed the doors behind the boy, leaving him alone in a confined area for 3-4 seconds until he started screaming louder, the report said. She then opened the door and walked him to his desk.

During a separate incident, a student who was looking under his desk had been asked to stop multiple times by Reyes-Marino before she punched him on his upper back area with a closed fist, the report said.

“[Reyes-Marino] forcefully lifted [the victim] from the ground, proceeded to kick him in the leg and punch him with a closed fist on his upper back area prior to sitting him down,” the report said.

The report said Reyes-Marino denied punching the boy and said she propped the door open for the other student in the corridor.

Reyes-Marino, 60, was booked into jail and later released on bond.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools officials said Reyes-Marino had been employed by the district for about eight years but will be fired.

“Miami-Dade County Public Schools is deeply disturbed about the serious allegations made against the employee.  Conduct such as the one she is accused of will not be tolerated,” the district said in a statement.  “As soon as the allegations surfaced, the individual was reassigned away from the school setting pending the outcome of an investigation by the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department.  As a result of this week’s arrest, her employment will be terminated and she will be precluded from seeking future work with the District.”

Special Needs Child Locked In Basement Storage

.jpg photo of Child Abuse graphic
Special Needs Child locked In basement storage room.

Macy couple pleads not guilty to
Child Abuse

OMAHA, NE  –  A Macy, Nebraska, husband and wife have pleaded not guilty to locking a 10-year-old foster son in a basement storage room.

Krista Parker entered her plea Monday in U.S. District Court in Omaha to federal and state charges of kidnapping, child abuse/neglect and false imprisonment. Charles Parker pleaded not guilty to the same charges Thursday.

Trial dates have not been set.

According to court documents, authorities on Sept. 15 were called to the Parker home about a report of a boy locked in a storage room.

Officers found the boy locked in the dark, windowless room, amid trash, a few toys and human feces.  The room stunk of urine and feces, court documents said.

Krista Parker was found passed out upstairs, and a preliminary breath test showed her blood-alcohol content at 0.126 percent.

Parker confessed to locking the boy in the room a few hours earlier, court documents said, but denied confining the special-needs boy, who had been in her foster care for nine months, in the room previously.

Charles Parker told officers he was unaware that his wife had confined their son in the room that night, but he said that they occasionally locked the boy in the room for several hours and maybe for a night one time, court documents said.

The boy told a forensic interviewer that the storage room was his bedroom and that he slept on the floor because he did not have a bed.

Grand Prairie Files No Charges After Special Needs Child Molested

Father of boy who civil jury says was sexually assaulted worries that teacher who did it is still near kids

Dallas County, TX  –  A Dallas civil jury found a teacher sexually assaulted an 11-year-old boy with autism.  Now the child’s father is raising concerns about whether the teacher is still around children at the same school.

His son had attended Anderson Private School in Parker County for six weeks when, the civil jury found, Alexander Anderson, now 31, sexually assaulted the boy on an Oct. 31, 2014 field trip to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in Grand Prairie.  The teacher, Alexander Anderson, lives with his parents in a nearby home that shares the same address as the school.

,jpg photo of Ripley's Believe It or Not attraction in Grand Prairie Texas
Ripley’s Believe It or Not attraction in Grand Prairie, TX

The father of the boy is afraid that Anderson may still have “access to kids,” he said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News.  The News does not typically identify victims of sexual assault or their families.  The boy just turned 15.

The civil jury awarded the boy and his father more than $8 million in December after finding Anderson committed sexual assault and assault against the boy and after finding that Anderson’s parents had defamed the child’s father during a police investigation into the incident.

No criminal charges have been filed and Grand Prairie police closed the investigation.  The case was tried in Dallas because Ripley’s is in Dallas County.

William “Rocky” Feemster, an attorney for the Andersons and the school, said Alexander Anderson, his parents and the school say no sexual assault occurred.
“My clients disputed the allegations and continue to do that,” he said.  “My clients, especially Alexander Anderson, denied this even occurred.”

Feemster confirmed that Anderson still lives “contiguous” to Anderson Private School.  Records show they share the same Fort Worth address on five acres in Parker County.  Several buildings are located on the property, including the home where Anderson lives with his parents, who founded and operate the school.

Anderson also worked at the school and the school’s website still says he is on the staff, but Feemster says he stopped working for the school after the jury’s verdict.

Anderson does not have a criminal conviction and a civil jury’s verdict does not require him to register as a sex offender.  So there’s nothing to prevent him from living close to a school.

In December, a jury awarded the boy $4,041,250 from Alexander Anderson “for the sexual assault and the assault,” according to court records.  The same jury also awarded the father $1.75 million “for the defamation” by William Anderson and $2.5 million “for the defamation” by LeVonna Anderson.  William Anderson is Alexander Anderson’s father and LeVonna Anderson is his mother.

The boy is a high functioning autistic child, according to his father.   He attended regular classes in public school with the help of an aide until, as the school district grew, the father decided to look elsewhere.  He chose Anderson Private School because it presented itself to the boy’s family as a safe environment with highly qualified teachers in a highly supervised environment.    There were about 15 students enrolled when the boy attended, his father said.

The field trip

All students leave the school each Friday for “an adventurous experience” and they also take an overnight trip each year, according to the school’s website.

The father of the assault victim chaperoned the 2014 field trip to Ripley’s, which features a wax museum and an exhibit of odd but true events.

During the trip, the father said in an interview, he began to panic when he lost sight of his son.

Grainy, silent surveillance video shows the boy and his father in the lobby.  The father walks into an adjacent room to talk to others on the field trip.  John Sloan, the family attorney, said the father was asking other adults on the trip whether they were going through the exhibits as a single group or in smaller groups.  In the video, the father picks up his belongings and walks back to the lobby.

Only seconds have passed, but his son is no longer in the lobby.  Another camera recorded Alexander Anderson walking out of an exhibit and the boy following him back inside the exhibit.

The father said he found his son alone in the gift shop after they’d been separated about 11 minutes.  At the time, the father said, he didn’t realize something had happened to his son while they were separated.

“It was during this field trip that Alexander Anderson preyed upon and sexually assaulted” the child, the lawsuit alleged.  “Alexander Anderson was familiar with Ripley’s, as the Anderson School had taken field trips there in the past.  As a result of his familiarity, Alexander Anderson knew Ripley’s did not have adequate security or adequate staffing in many areas of the premises and there would be ample opportunity to commit his intended sexual assault.”

The lawsuit said Alexander Anderson “took advantage of” the boy’s disability and “lured” him “into an area at Ripley’s where he knew they were alone and away from the group, and sexually assaulted” him.

Later, at home, the father began to worry that something had happened on the field trip.  He told The News that his son, “told me later that evening that the teachers at his school were ‘mean.’  He had been super excited about school until then.”

The father phoned the son’s therapist, Sloan said.  The therapist later met with the boy and then called the police.

According to medical records from Cook Children’s hospital in Fort Worth, the boy told a nurse specific details about the assault.

He also told the nurse “Alex is bad.  I don’t like Anderson school.”

Police investigation

Grand Prairie police began to investigate the case Nov. 4. 2014, but said in a statement that there was not enough evidence to file charges.

“Both insufficient evidence and conflicting evidence hindered prosecution of this case,” the department said in a statement.  “Should additional evidence become available, we will immediately re-open the case.”

Sloan said a flawed police investigation prevented a criminal case from moving forward.

“By allowing the adult suspect’s mother to be present during Alexander Anderson’s first and only interrogation, and by allowing her to dominate the interrogation with defamatory statement after defamatory statement about the victim’s father the GPPD investigation was tainted from the beginning,” Sloan said.

Typically, law enforcement investigators interview people separately or with only their attorneys present.  When people are interviewed together, officers have a more difficult time determining their individual version of events.

The father said William and LeVonna Anderson told police and others that he was “on drugs” and was “outside using drugs” during the field trip.  In the civil trial, the jury awarded part of the $8 million judgment for defamation after finding those allegations to be false.

Grand Prairie police declined to answer questions about whether defamatory statements against the father or interviewing Alexander Anderson and his mother at the same time damaged the investigation.

Feemster, the attorney for the Andersons, said the police investigation went nowhere because Alexander Anderson committed no crime.

Settlement

The school does not have insurance, Sloan said.  The Andersons’ homeowners insurance policy covers defamation, he said, but not money owed to the boy because of the sexual assault.

Earlier this month, the school, the Andersons and their insurance company came to an agreement with the father and his son on how to resolve the case.  The agreement could be finalized soon, but the terms are confidential.

Feemster said his clients’ insurance company decided to settle rather than appeal. Both sides, he said, wanted to settle “to get away from each other” and have the case finished.

The News tried to reach the Andersons through the school.  A man who answered the school’s phone declined to identify himself or answer questions about the lawsuit.

“It was a frivolous lawsuit.  Nothing ever happened.  It was done for money,” the man said before hanging up.

The father said he hopes Grand Prairie police carry on with the investigation.

The father said his son’s life will never be the same after the assault, adding that he is worried about other students at the school.

“We hoped to make it so he’s not a teacher anymore,” the father said.  His son is “alive but he’s destroyed.”

FL School Resource Officer Suspended

.jpg photo of Father and his Son who was abused
Eddie Perillo and his Son

School resource officer suspended during
Child Abuse investigation

OKALOOSA COUNTY, FL  –  A former Okaloosa County school resource officer was suspended for “allegations of unsatisfactory performance and not obeying the rules”, according to a report released by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO).

It all came to light, the OCSO reports, when the sheriff’s office began investigating allegations of child abuse at Kenwood Elementary School in May.

OCSO launched an internal investigation when child protection investigators with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) revealed the resource officer did not help or cooperate with multiple ongoing child abuse investigations at the elementary school.

Officials say Officer Dwayne Vasiloff wrote seven initial child abuse reports between August 2016 and June of 2017.  However, during that same time, DCF investigators made 46 investigative visits to the school.

The internal investigation deemed Vasiloff neglected his duty and was “content” with DCF handle the investigations and the resulting workload.

While Vasiloff denied any wrongdoing, he was suspended without pay, reassigned and put on probation.  The sheriff’s office said Vasiloff retired in July before finishing his probation.

The State Attorney’s Office said the investigation has “no bearing on the ongoing criminal investigation in the Marlynn Stillions case”, according to OCSO. Channel 3 News reached out to Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille, who said Vasiloff is “not a suspect at this time.  The investigation is ongoing and if additional facts come forward it is possible that status could change.”

The special needs teacher faces four counts of child abuse related to allegations she abused a boy with Autism.