Suspended at 6 for ‘sexual misbehavior’

How apraxia got my son suspended from school is a horror story:  School bureaucrats became convinced that a first grader with an “invisible disability” was a victim of sexual abuse or a predator because he rocks when stressed.  

Apraxia is a movement and coordination disorder affecting about 5 percent of children, but it’s often missed or misunderstood, writes Michael Grazianao, the boy’s father and a professor of neuroscience at Princeton.

People look at apraxia sufferers and see a clumsy child who won’t try hard enough, a child who must not be very bright because he can’t keep up in math and reading, or a disobedient child who won’t stop moving in weird ways and bumping into people.

Handwriting is stressful for his son because of his disability. That struggle was affecting his reading and math. Unable to get any help from the school, the parents paid for an occupational therapist to help with coordination problems and a psychiatrist to help their son cope with classroom anxiety.

When the six-year-old began rocking to calm himself in class, his teacher decided he was masturbating. The principal, who didn’t know about the movement disorder and didn’t ask, reported the family to a state agency for possible child abuse.

Our son’s psychotherapist wrote a letter to the school to tell them about his classroom anxiety. Our son’s pediatrician also wrote a letter to the school telling them that he saw no medical evidence of any abuse. These experts asked the school to intervene with a step-by-step behavioural plan to help our son’s classroom difficulties. Under federal law, he was entitled to what’s called a 504 plan, in reference to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is meant to ensure that disabled children have full access to education, but the school refused.

After a monthlong investigation, the parents were cleared of abuse charges. The state investigator told the principal in person. Within hours, the first grader was suspended on charges of sexual assault. Playing “Zombies” after lunch, he‘d hugged a friend.

The parents took the district to court.

The principal’s written testimony included a set of classroom notes about our child to show how he willfully misbehaved. Strangely enough, the school had given us an alternative version of this document about a month earlier, which we still had. . . .  The version that was submitted to court as sworn testimony offers a noticeably different account, including several additional sentences that make our son’s conduct sound willful and sexual. It looks to me very much as though somebody in the district was willing to lie in court and falsify documents in order to damage a child.

According to the written testimony of the principal, the psychiatrist supported her claim that our son was sexually assaultive and a danger to others. . . . (The psychiatrist) wrote a letter . . . noting that he thought our child was not sexually assaultive, not a danger to others, and should never have been suspended from school.

The judge ruled for the parents, but there were no consequences for school officials who denied special education services, lied or forged evidence.

The Grazianos’ son moved to a new elementary school. The school psychologist talked to him about his stress and set up a reward system for good class work. “Within a few days, the rocking stopped.”

Graziano urges other parents to fight for their kids’ needs, but admits that he and his wife barely saved their son, despite money, leverage and “degrees in neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology.”

Via Instapundit, who thinks responsible parents should not entrust their children to the public schools. (The Grazianos believe strongly in public schools, despite their ordeal.)

About Joanne

Comments

  1. SC Math Teacher says:

    Chilling. Just chilling. Coupled with the Justina Pelletier case (not education related, but still), even more so.

  2. Stacy in NJ says:

    I’m frequently amazed at the willingness of parents to subject their kid to an awful environment in an attempt to get “justice” or change the system. I wonder if a small part of their heroics are ego driven. “We’re smart and have resources. We’ll fight you and win”. That seems like cold comfort when the mental health of your kid is at stake. Public education is voluntary; there are alternatives to our current prison system.

    • SC Math Teacher says:

      I hear you, but if one doesn’t have the money for private school and doesn’t have the time (due to job obligations) for homeschooling, then what choice is left if you’re locked into your zoned school? (Moving is not feasible for everyone either.)

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        I guess it depends on your priorities then: home, job, or kid. We all make choices.

        • SC Math Teacher says:

          I don’t think it’s that simple. For example, we have a house with no mortgage, but with our expenses are such that both of us have to work. (And, no, we’re not supporting a lavish lifestyle.) We can’t afford private school and we can’t homeschool. Of course, we chose to move to a town with an excellent public school system…but what of folks like us who can’t do that?

          • Margaret says:

            I know of families in which one parent works days and the other works nights. The night-working parent supervises the kids’ home educations. Tough life, but doable if parents are motivated to do it.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            You’re just voicing preferred powerlessness. You could make other choices (sell your house), you prefer not to. If your kid is getting what he needs in public school, well, then no problem. But, if not, you’re not prioritizing his needs. It is what it is.

            Now, the poor have few options and I have tremendous sympathy for those who are trapped, and that is why our current district systems should be dismantled and charters, vouchers and subsidized homeschooling more widely available.

          • SC Math Teacher says:

            To stick with my hypothetical, with no mortgage, selling the house wouldn’t save anything. As for day and night shifts, not all careers offer such things. I suppose one could change jobs to accommodate, so, yes, I guess one could upend one’s life. Let’s not pretend that it wouldn’t come with tremendous costs, though…both financial and emotional…that could negate the positives.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            “…that could negate the positive..”

            Yes, well, that’s what choices are all about – weighing needs and options and prioritizing. If your kid is being victimized and potentially abused in any setting, upending one’s life my be worthwhile. Some people won’t make that change because they don’t value their child’s needs in the same way they value their own. It is what it is.

      • SC Math Teacher says:

        You are very black and white about this Stacy. I just think that finances are an important factor. You seem to think that a family that doesn’t opt for change but instead chooses to fight within the system is doing their child a disservice. I say that there may be other circumstances that make change difficult and that parents who choose to fight the system aren’t necessarily “ego driven”.

        It is, indeed, what it is.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          A family who chooses to “fight” a fundamentally sick system when their child is in an abusive situation is doing more than a disservice to their kid. They’re neglectful and abusive themselves. I’m sure some folks can rational this as serving the greater good, but in reality they’re most likely sacrificing their kid at the alter or their own social and financial needs.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Motivations of the ‘crats notwithstanding, why no consequences for submitting deliberately falsified documents?
    Maybe it’s business as usual?