Parent voices concerns at school board meeting

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By Staff Reports

An autistic youngster’s parent addressed the Patrick County School Board at their meeting Thursday.

Sarah Clayton said her daughter has attended Patrick Springs Primary School since 2014.

“She is autistic and is a student in the autism class where she’s been for the past four school years,” Clayton said. “I do currently have a complaint being investigated with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights due to a restraint incident that occurred in 2016. I was not notified of the incident until April of this year.

“… According to the Patrick County School System’s Seclusion and Restraint policy, it is required that a parent be notified of restraint within 15 days of the incident,” Clayton said, adding that she was “never informed of the restraint of my daughter by the school administration.”

At the beginning of the last school year, Clayton said a new lead teacher was hired for the autism class. “There were many issues throughout that year which I tried to work with the school administration on. They also brought in outside companies to do evaluations and give suggestions. Many of the suggestions were not implemented,” Clayton said.

On Sept. 5, Clayton alleged her daughter “came home with fingerprint bruises on her arms and (was) missing a clump of hair.”

Clayton said she met with the superintendent “who assured me he would be investigating to see what happened. Later that afternoon, I was informed that my daughter had been restrained that morning. This time she was reportedly pinned physically in a chair and pushed up to a table,” Clayton said, adding the alleged incident was observed by two teachers from another school who were observing her daughter for a Functional Behavior Assessment.

“I called the police and they met us at a hospital in Rocky Mount for a forensic nurse to take pictures” of the bruises, Clayton said, adding that a social services worker also was summoned to the hospital, and now both agencies have current open investigations.

She also said the two teachers now recounted details of the incident differently than when it initially occurred.

Clayton alleged she has heard that her daughter also “has been deprived of PE time, recess, snacks, physically restrained, yelled at and treated differently than other children in her class daily. She also spends a considerable amount of time in time out due to behaviors associated with her autism, which the teacher considers bad behaviors.”

“All this is pretty much from the last month, but we’ve been dealing with issues regarding the school for the last four years now,” Clayton said, adding that her daughter has not been to school “since this (Sept. 5) incident occurred because I can’t trust that she’ll be safe.”

Clayton’s voice was fraught with emotion as she noted that “the school has offered to move her to another class or give her a one-on-one aid, but that doesn’t fix what’s already happened or guarantee something else won’t happen.”

“… I want everyone to know the things that are still being covered up and the danger that my child and others could still be in,” she said.

Brandon Simmons, board chairman, requested a written copy of Clayton’s remarks.

In other matters, the board:

* Elected Walter Scott to serve as the vice-chairman through the end of the year.

Scott, of the Smith River District, replaces Ronnie Terry, who formerly served in the slot. Terry stepped down from the Blue Ridge District seat on the board due to legal issues.

In a related action, the board welcomed Shannon Harrell, who was appointed to fill the unexpired portion of Terry’s seat on the board.

*Approved an automated form of School Bus Routing system that is designed to address efficiency issues, according to Dean Gilbert, director of operations. He said the long-term plan is to get GPS on school buses to enable access to real time data.

* Certificates from the Virginia School Board Association were presented to school board members for their continuing education efforts: Scott received a Bronze Medal/Award of Achievement; Award of Honor/Gold Pens were presented to Brandon Simmons, chairman; Annie Hylton; an Award of Recognition to Sara Leigh Collins, board clerk.

*Learned that October is recognized as Bullying Prevention Month, and heard a report from Andrea Cassell, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, about how local schools focus on the issue year-round.

*Named Michelle Church Adams as the new assistant principal at Stuart Elementary School. Her first day will be Oct. 21.

* Met on Saturday in closed session to discuss the superintendent search.

Opened at 9—into closed—came out at 11:35—no action.