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Special Education Info

SchoolWatch

Mahopac schools sued over abuse allegations
 
 

PHYSICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, AND SEXUAL ABUSE IN SPECIAL EDUCATION CLASSROOM

 

It is very difficult for parents to send off their children to strangers who will be caring for them throughout the school day.  Tammy Card, a special education teacher in the Mahopac Central School District would tell parents that their children were in good hands. But her words of reassurance were nothing more that a lie.  Card’s classroom reportedly was nothing more than a center for special education children to be abused, humiliated, tortured, and injured.

 

How and why do horrific events like this occur? They occur because deviants get hired by school districts for these jobs by incompetent administrators, who then fail to provide any oversight to the conduct of these individuals, and fail to remove them from the classroom when problems become known.  That is exactly what occurred in Mahopac, where not just one deviant was hired, but a large number of deviants who were placed in the same special education program, the “Bridge Program,” where the administration allowed them to pray on children.  And then when conscientious teachers and aides reported what was going on in that classroom, the administration took no action to protect the children, and instead engaged in a cover up to keep the information from the parents in order to protect the perpetrators and themselves from civil liability.

 

The first law suit was initiated by the parents of several autistic children.  These children all were either non-verbal or have very low verbal abilities.  Considering the fact that these children cannot relay to their parents what is occurring in the classroom, the conduct that is alleged to have occurred is despicable.  The type of alleged abuse is detailed below:

 

Calling the children degrading names, including “sloth,” “Poor Thing,” “Drool Machine,” “Nico Nico Pancake Freako,” “Mosquito,” “Old Man,” “Froggy,” “Satan’s Child,” “Chicken Butt,” and “Rodent.”

Engaging is sexual horseplay in front of the children, including sexual massages and touching.

Exposing breasts to the students to “brighten their day.”

Falsifying records to show that IEP services were provided, when they were not.

Engaging is sex-related discussions in front of the students.

Altering a child’s assistive communication device to humiliate him.  Rather than the device saying “Hello” or other appropriate responses, the device was reprogrammed to say, “I’m sitting right here, can’t you friggin see me” and “Hello, I am here today, everybody go away.”

Use of inappropriate behavioral techniques including dangerous restraints, withholding of feed, forcing a child to stand facing a wall, forcing a child to eat standing up, locking children in the bathroom, locking children in the closet, making a child sit in his own feces, rolling balls at a child so that he would trip and fall.

Force feeding a child causing him to choke on multiple occasions.

Not taking a child that was injured during the abuse to the nurses office.

Taking photos of the children’s private parts.

 

The deviants named in the suit include the following individuals:

 

Tammy Card                          Special Education Teacher

Joyce Spiegel                          Speech Language Pathologist

Lorrie Reynolds                    Teacher’s Aide

Joseph Levy                           Teacher’s Aide

Sherry Streitas                      Teacher’s Aide

 

The problems in this classroom were reported by aides as early as the 2005/06 school year.  Yet the administration did nothing to correct the behaviors of the staff and did nothing to protect the students.

 

The administration engaged in equally despicable conduct throughout, as they knew of what was occurring in the classroom and initially did nothing.  Once it had continued and parents started asking questions about their children’s deteriorating behavior, only then did the district get statements from the whistleblowers and have the “perps” reported to the police.  BUT THE ABUSE HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR OVER A YEAR AND THE ADMINISTRATION WAS AWARE OF IT.  And once the lid was off, the administration took retaliatory action against the whistleblowers, removing them from the scene and forbidding them to have contact with the victims or their parents.  The administration then met with the parents and lied to them saying that the staffing changes that were occurring in the program had “nothing to do with the children.”  Despite the administration being aware of the abuse that was occurring in the Bridge Program, they engaged in an aggressive campaign to keep information from the victims and their families.  (Guess what firm represents the district?  Ingerman & Smith, one of the firms being investigated for their criminal conduct in the school district lawyer pension scandal.  Is it a surprise that the administration in Mahopac hires a firm with equally deficient morals?)

 

The administration also barred parents from observing the classroom during this entire time.  This is a big “Red Flag” to any parent who has their child in a special education self-contained class.  A district’s refusal to allow classroom observations indicates one of two things; that the class is a warehouse with little or no teaching occurring or the class is a “little shop of horrors” such as the Bridge Program in Mahopac.

 

The second law suit involves four teacher’s aides (Joanne Sassone, Melanie Patelow Nanna, Kristy Nickerson, and Mary Beth Sangelli who are suing the district and a number of the administrators for having been suspended from employment.  Now, don’t jump the gun and assume that any of these individuals did a thing wrong or were involved in the abuse of these children.  THESE ARE THE PEOPLE THAT REPORTED THE ABUSE TO THE ADMINISTRATION!  And the reaction of the school administration was to issue a “gag order” to these people to protect the administration and the schools at the expense of these children!  The order read:

                                               

“You are hereby placed on administrative reassignment to home, Effective April 10, 2007, with full pay and benefits, pending the District’s investigation into certain issues which have recently come to our attention in connection with your employment. You are not allowed on school grounds or at school sponsored events until further notice.  You are not allowed to have any contact with any students or their parents until further notice.”

 

Obviously, the administrators did not want these whistleblowers to observe the continuing abuse of students in the Mahopac  Schools, did not want the whistleblowers alerting the families of these children, and did not want any of the facts of the abuse being shared with other staff in the school.  While we are on the point, let’s take a moment to name the administrators that are responsible for these retaliatory acts against the aides who reported the abuse.

               

Robert J. Reidy, Jr.     Superintendent

Vincent Quartararo   Assistant Superintendent

Carol DeAlleaume     Acting Interim Principal

               

Throughout the entire time that the administration was aware of and doing nothing about the abuse in the Bridge Program, the parents were seeing severe regression and changes to their children’s behaviors.  Some of the children began acting out aggressively at home, some began perseverating on sexual issues and engaging in sexual conduct (keep in mind, these children were 5 and 6 years old), some of the children became resistant to going to school and screamed and became aggressive when they were expected to go to school, some of the children were able to relay elements of the abuse that was occurring to their parents.  Meanwhile the administration did NOTHING to protect these children.  Current clinicians who have assessed the children since the abuse are opining that these children may never recover behaviorally from the injury that was inflicted upon them in this classroom.  One of the parents had to quit her job to deal with the behavioral issues that were erupting at home as a result of the abuse.

 

Parents need to be aware that significant changes in their child’s behavior at home can be an indication that inappropriate programming is provided in school.  As here in Mahopac, school administrations and their attorneys are often more interested on protecting the school district from legal claims than they are in protecting children from abuse.  This firm of Ingerman & Smith has other motives too, like lining their pockets, as they have been abusing the public trust in the school lawyer pension scandal that the FBI and the Attorney General are investigating.  (The scuttlebutt on that is that criminal indictments will be coming shortly from the feds against some of the most egregious perps, some of whom may be partners at Ingerman & Smith.)

 

Ingerman & Smith is one of the firms that School Watch has asked schools to boycott, due to their abuse of the public trust.  Their involvement in this matter is yet another example of why we need to screen carefully those involved working in or for our schools, as those involved in advising the district in this cover-up certainly put the interests of the administration before  that of the individual victims, further victimizing them.

 

If you have information of abuse of children in our schools, or of administrations and their lawyers covering it up, please report it to SchoolWatch via our website or by e-mail at ptaparent@optonline.com.

 

 

Winkelman v Parma City School District

            On May 11, 2007 the due process hearing of Jeffrey and Sandee Winkelman, on behalf of their son with autism, ended the evidentiary phase.  This hearing addressed the special education issues of their son Jacob for the 2006-2007 school year.  The Winkelmans have been in litigation with the Parma City School District for a number of years regarding the free, appropriate public education which the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires their son to receive.  The Winkelmans are involved in a lengthy court battle with the PCSD over whether a parent has a right to proceed pro se (for themselves without an attorney) in matters of the IDEA (the law addressing special education).  The decision in that matter should be rendered within the next month by the U.S. Supreme Court.
 

            In the current due process hearing, the Winkelmans are represented by attorney Andrew Cuddy, of Auburn, New York.  Cuddy was admitted pro hac vice (for this particular matter) under the sponsorship of Michael J. Goldberg, a Cleveland Criminal Defense attorney, who represented the Winkelmans for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years.  Michael welcomed the help from Cuddy and sponsored him so that he could practice law in Ohio on behalf of the Winkelman family.  Cuddy is an experienced special education attorney that has recently published The Special Education Battlefield: A Guide to the Due Process Hearings and Other Tools of Effective Advocacy (available at www.andrewcuddybooks.com).

            The current due process hearing is addressing the Winkelman’s claim for reimbursement for a private school placement of their son at the Monarch School, a state approved school designed to meet the educational needs of students with autism.  PCSD claims that the school is not appropriate, and that the parents are not entitled to reimbursement.  PCSD further maintains that its in-district program is appropriate to meet Jacob’s needs, despite the Districts failing special education programs according to Ohio Department of Education records.

            The hearing lasted eleven days.  During the hearing the Winkelmans presented testimony of three individuals that were qualified as experts by the hearing officer who testified that the PCSD program would cause irreparable harm and injury to the student.  The District only presented the testimony of their staff to support the District position that the PCSD program would “allow for educational benefit.”  “I believe the District staff was pressured to misrepresent information to the hearing officer, and am investigating this matter further so that it can be brought to the attention of the appropriate authorities if warranted,” said Cuddy.

            Cuddy stated, “The position of the District is outrageous.  Experts and the child’s physicians are telling the District that their program will cause irreparable harm to the student.  For the District to insist the student attend this program is evidence of their complete disregard for the student’s well-being.”  Cuddy has launched an investigation into the budgetary issues of the District, as he suspects that IDEA money that is designated for special education programming is being funneled to the School District’s attorneys.  “There is no other explanation I can imagine for a District spending $1,000,000 dollars defending a program that all the experts involved in the case conclude will injure the child.  If we follow the money, I believe we will find the individual for this decision-making,” Cuddy said.

            When asked of his opinion regarding the case, Cuddy expressed confidence.  “The burden of proof in these due process hearings is upon the parents.  We presented multiple experts with advanced degrees supporting the parents’ position.  Every service provider familiar with the child supported the parents’ position with their reports and testimony.  The District’s defense in this matter was based on the opinions of their own staff, which certainly appeared ‘coached’ as each witness testified about hours of preparation spent with multiple school district attorneys.”  Cuddy further stated, “The only way that I can imagine the hearing officer ruling against the parents is if the corruption in the District goes beyond the District and to the level of the hearing officers and the Ohio Department of Education.”

            As an attorney from New York, Cuddy expressed surprise about the programs that were described by the PCSD staff.  The classrooms, which were continually referred to as “units” by the PCSD staff, offered little educational instruction to the students.  In the morning hours, the special education teacher only spent 15 minutes of time with each student.  The remainder of the morning the student only received the attention of a classroom aide, a person unqualified to provide instruction.  A similar routine was established in the afternoon, allowing for minimal time with a certified teacher.  “Districts are not allowed to ‘warehouse’ special education in this manner.  These children are entitled to teaching services equivalent to a regular education student.  That is not happening in Parma.  I am surprised that other parents are not up in arms.  There was also evidence in the hearing that the Parma staff is using mechanical restraints in the classroom to control behavior of students with autism.  This rises to the level of criminal conduct, in my mind, as the state’s own regulations prohibit mechanical restraints for this purpose,” Cuddy said.

            The hearing also focused on the School Report Card of the Ohio Department of Education.  Parma did not pass.  The District’s action plan to address their failures in special education, and complained of inadequate funds to properly train staff.  It was clear during this hearing that the staff members are not properly trained, and that there are funding issues.”  The two classrooms addressed in the hearing both exceeded the state limit of eight students.  Cuddy is continuing to investigate the funding issues.  “It seems very clear from the District’s records that money intended to pay for special education programming is being used to pay attorneys to fight providing appropriate special education programming.  This is contrary to what the law allows, as it is a violation of law to use special education money to pay attorneys.  This practice negatively impacts of the provision of special education services to all the students in the District.”

A decision from the impartial hearing officer, Harry Taich, Esq., is due on June 28, 2007.

 If you have questions regarding this press release, please contact Andrew K. Cuddy, Esq.

 

(716) 868-9103

Andrew@cuddylawoffice.com

           

I wanted to share with you all a bit of good news that came in, which
already is spreading over the airways and internet. As many of you
have heard, Sandee and Jeff Winkelman have been battling the school district of Parma, OH for some time attempting to secure for their son Jacob a FAPE. Jacob is a child with autism, who is attending a wonderful private school, Monarch, as the public school program is one of those "warehouse" programs.

Today, a decision was rendered by IHO Ronald Alexander finding that the District denied Jacob a FAPE for the 07/08 school year and
awarding the parents the tuition costs of Monarch. This is a real
victory for Sandee and Jeff, who expended an immeasurable amount of energy protecting the legal rights of their child to a FAPE.

The scuttlebutt is that the District has expended well over $1,000,000
litigating against this child's interests, which would have more than
paid for the child attending Monarch well past his 21st birthday. I
suspect the District never really did a cost benefit analysis of
litigating these cases against a determined parent.

Congratulations are due to Sandee and Jeff for the tremendous efforts they have made on behalf of their son!!!
 

 

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