Petition Closed
Petitioning Special Education, Mercer County Board of Education Emma Jean Tamme and 14 others

End abuse of Autistic students in Mercer County, Kentucky


207,599
Supporters

(Updated and corrected version -- Also, the text of the petition is the next tab, "petition letter")

In Mercer County, Kentucky, nine year old Chris Baker, an Autistic student, was told by his special education aide to climb inside a bag intended for therapeutic purposes as a punishment to "control his autistic behavior" on 14 December 2011. He was placed in the bag with the drawstring tightened and left in the hallway in the school. When his mother, Sandra Baker, was called to the school to get her son, she demanded that he be removed from the bag right away. The teacher struggled to undo the drawstring, and Chris emerged sweaty and non-communicative. According to the teacher, this had been done several times over the last year, but Sandra didn't know until this latest incident. While she met with state officials on Monday 19 December 2011 before a possible meeting with school officials, there is no guarantee that those meetings will prevent this kind of abuse from happening again -- either to Chris or to other students.

If you think it's wrong to tell an Autistic child to climb inside a bag not intended as an instrument of confinement and tighten it with a drawstring, which could potentially have led to serious injury or death, as punishment, then please sign this petition. This is wrong. This is abuse. It needs to stop.

Updates, 27 Dec. 2011: 

While I personally believe that the teacher more than deserves to be fired, the demand stipulates that if she not be fired (which it does request explicitly -- asking that the teacher "be dismissed from position") then she be required to complete extensive education regarding respectful treatment of Autistic students. I do not harbor any illusions that the people who are naturally malicious-minded and inclined to abuse will truly benefit or amend their ways from any amount of education; however, in the event the county Board of Education refuses to fire her, it would be better than simply allowing her to keep her job and stay in the same position where she already is now, maintaining the status quo. 

I firmly believe that the majority of teachers are people with good or decent intentions who genuinely want to support their students and not abuse them; the kind of education demanded in the second and third provisions of the petition ought to provide these people with a better foundation and toolkit for interacting appropriately and respectfully with Autistic students and students with other disabilities. I would much rather focus on what good can be gained of a horrific and disgusting situation than the good that cannot be gained from it, and that is what I hope to accomplish with this petition. 

In response to concerns about misinformation or conflicting information about the type of bag used, it was an Abilitations BagOBalls (not a duffel bag, or a gym ball bag, or a netted bag), which is intended to be used for occupational therapy, specifically sensory integration therapy through application of deep pressure; however, the teacher who told Chris to get inside the bag was NOT a trained clinician using the bag in a therapeutic setting in a manner so that he would have been free to leave of his own initiative. It was instead used inappropriately as a restraint and a punishment, not as a therapy. 

- Lydia

Update 2 Jan. 2012: I've received more than one email asking why I do not use person first language. I am Autistic. This deviation is intentional, and you can read about it and my rationale here. Please read that article and any links inside it in their entirety before emailing me demanding to know why I will not use PFL. Thank you.

Letter to
Special Education, Mercer County Board of Education Emma Jean Tamme
Board Member, Mercer County Board of Education Larry Yeager
Principal, Harrodsburg Day Treatment Center, Mercer Central - Alternative School, 9th Grade Academy Gayla Jenkins
and 12 others
Principal, Mercer County Intermediate School Dana Cobb
Board Member, Mercer County Board of Education Pattie Burke
Superintendent, Mercer County Board of Education Dennis Davis
Principal, Kenneth D. King Middle School Terry Gordon
Assessment/District Wide Programs/Professional Development Jana Stratton
Board Member, Mercer County Board of Education James Stinnett
Mercer County Board of Education MCBE
Principal, Mercer County High School Melissa Hutchins
Board Member, Mercer County Board of Education Billy Montgomery
Principal, Hughes Jones Harrodsburg Area Technology Center Duane Flora
Board Member, Mercer County Board of Education Ron Betsher
Principal, Evan Harlow Early Learning Center Dr. Karen Hatfield
In Mercer County, Kentucky, nine year old Chris Baker, an Autistic student, was told by his special education aide to climb inside an Abilitations BagOBalls bag, which is intended for therapeutic purposes, as a punishment to "control his autistic behavior" on 14 December 2011. He was placed in the bag with the drawstring tightened and left in the hallway in the school. When his mother, Sandra Baker, was called to the school to get her son, she demanded that he be removed from the bag right away. The teacher struggled to undo the drawstring, and Chris emerged sweaty and non-communicative. According to the teacher, this had been done several times over the last year, but Sandra didn't know until this latest incident. While she met with state officials on Monday 19 December 2011 before a possible meeting with school officials, there is no guarantee that those meetings will prevent this kind of abuse from happening again -- either to Chris or to other students.

Not only could this teacher's actions -- placing an Autistic child inside a bag not intended for confinement, and tightening the drawstring to keep him there, for punishment -- could potentially have led to serious injury or death, but these actions were an egregious violation of the rights of any human being to be free from fear of abuse.

This is wrong. This is abuse. It needs to stop.

We hereby affirm that

1.) Physical, mechanical, and chemical restraint or seclusion of Autistic students and students with other disabilities is abuse except in brief, temporary, and emergency interventions when there is imminent and immediate threat of harm to self or others, and that are carefully and completely documented and reviewed with a full debriefing including the student and parent(s) or guardian(s) afterward;

2.) All special education teachers, including aides or educational assistants, ought to receive extensive education and training in appropriate interactions with and educational methods for Autistic students and students with other disabilities both before starting work with these students and throughout the duration of their careers in order to promote the best possible outcomes for all students;

3.) All non-special education teachers, including aides or educational assistants, ought to receive at least basic awareness education and training in recognizing autism and other disabilities, particularly invisible disabilities, which can include intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as appropriate interactions with Autistic students and students with other disabilities either before beginning work as teachers or as continuing education credits in order to promote the best possible outcomes for all students;

4.) It is in the best interests of all educators, educational administrators, parents, and Autistic students and students with other disabilities to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, including Autistic students and students with other disabilities, and that a safe environment means one in which a student is free of fear of any kind of restraint or seclusion or punishment-based treatment rather than respectful, individualized education; and

5.) Appropriate continuing education professional training on interactions with Autistic students and students with other disabilities ought to include appropriate de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques that recognize significant differences in processing and communication in Autistic students and students with other disabilities, in order to prevent the use of restraints of any kind or seclusion on Autistic students and students with other disabilities.

And in accordance with our affirmations, we demand that the following actions be taken or started, at the school district's expense, before the end of December 2012, with all due speed:

1.) That the teacher(s) responsible for confining and restraining Christopher Baker inside the Abilitations BagOBalls bag be dismissed from position for abusing a vulnerable person (a person with a disability) OR be required to successfully complete extensive continuing education professional training in interacting with and educating Autistic students and students with other disabilities, not to be fewer than at least the equivalent of a semester-long graduate level course developed using existing standards and best practices in model state systems, and which shall specifically include techniques for appropriate de-escalation and crisis intervention;

2.) That all current and future special education teachers, including aides or educational assistants, in Mercer County be required to successfully complete extensive continuing education professional training in interacting with and educating Autistic students and students with other disabilities, not to be fewer than at least the equivalent of a semester-long graduate level course developed using existing standards and best practices in model state systems, and which shall specifically include techniques for appropriate de-escalation and crisis intervention;

3.) That all current and future non-special education teachers, including aides or educational assistants, in Mercer County be required to successfully complete basic continuing education professional training in interacting with and educating Autistic students and students with other disabilities, not to be fewer than at least eight classroom hours of instruction developed using existing standards and best practices in model state systems; and

4.) That use of any type of restraint or seclusion on any student be explicitly prohibited except in brief, temporary, and emergency interventions when there is imminent and immediate threat of harm to self or others, that are carefully and completely documented and reviewed with a full debriefing including the student and parent(s) or guardian(s) afterward.


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Sincerely,