School Physical Abuse of a Disabled Child
May 31, 2019 1:39 PM   Subscribe

This is in New Jersey. I don't want to go into details except to say there was no sexual abuse, just physical. My child is fine.

It was reported to the school principal and after interviewing my son and briefly speaking with the staff, he is calling in an external investigative team.

IKYAML, but what are my next steps? Not the school's, mine. I feel helpless and my head is spinning so fast I can't think straight.

Please, no jokes about killing people or saying you'd be in jail if it were your kid. I'm so furious and I don't need encouragement.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit to Law & Government (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If his "external investigative team" is not law enforcement, i would consider that option if you feel charges should be filed. I would lend more weight to doing this if it is a staff member who abused your child, not another student. His team may find no wrongdoing and it might be better to have a report filed now rather than when they are done with their investigation.

As far as legal representation, if you know an attorney who would shoot straight with you about all possible courses of acctions, not just the sue for money one, i would talk to them about how your future interactions with the school might go.
posted by domino at 1:48 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]

It might be worth looking into therapy options for the child. Physical abuse can lead to lots of hard-to-detect issues, and PTSD, and other things, and it may not be obvious (plus he may be hiding it from you, consciously or un-).

Therapy for you too, because working through your anger on this would be good. Not because there's anything wrong with feeling angry about it! But it might help anyway.
posted by brainmouse at 1:49 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]

I would highly recommend you get your own lawyer right away, and that person can advise you on everything else. This will provide you with good counsel as well as someone who can be your communication point person, and it will also keep the school's attention focused correctly - and help you decide if you should report to law enforcement. We went through an investigation for child-on-child abuse with one of my sons and I wish I had taken this step. At the time I talked myself out of it and I feel like then we were left without much when the school ended its investigation without much action.

I'm so sorry this happened to your child. Congratulations that your child has learned that when an adult behaves terribly, their parent and principal are listening and on their side. It's normal for your child and you to feel helpless, angry, sad, rage, etc....if those feelings become unmanageable or interfere with living, it would be good to seek support.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:50 PM on May 31 [8 favorites]

I live in New Mexico. We have a local organization which provides legal services the children with disabilities who have issues with the educational system. I don't know if they take out of state cases, but if not they may be able to refer you to someone in your area. Pegasus Legal Services for Children, 505-244-1101. Unfortunately, they're closed on Friday afternoons.
posted by gteffertz at 1:50 PM on May 31

How is your kid processing this? You might want to make an appointment with a therapist who specializes in kids. Did your child's injury require a visit to a doctor?

Write down everything you remember happening, the phone calls, what they said, what your kid said. if he or she is verbal. If there are any marks on your child take pictures. If it feels ok videotape your kid talking about the incident.

Consider calling your local child abuse hotline.
posted by mareli at 1:52 PM on May 31

Take contemporaneous notes of every phone call, conversation, meeting.
posted by mmf at 2:07 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]

Take contemporaneous notes of every phone call, conversation, meeting.

Yes. Agreed. In addition to serving you well down the road, this will help you organize your thinking.

SPAN NJ is your local Parent Training and Information Center. PTIs give parents free information about special education. They help with school problems. You can call their warmline at 800 654-7726 or 973- 642-8100. They can talk through this with you and help you understand your options.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:27 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]

Your next step could be consulting with a lawyer. You can start with legal aid and public interest legal organizations, and if they cannot provide free services, they may be able to refer you to private attorneys who can assist pro bono.

Specific to New Jersey, you may want to contact Disability Rights New Jersey (DRNJ) at 1.800.922.7233 (in NJ only) or through their online intake form. In addition, the website Education-A-Must has a list of advocates for children with special needs, including New Jersey attorneys.
posted by Little Dawn at 2:30 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]

Absolutely talk to a lawyer. Make sure the lawyer you talk to has experience with your particular school system or at least suits against a school district in your state.
posted by sallybrown at 2:43 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

I was just coming here to recommend that you talk to Disability Rights New Jersey.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:53 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

If it feels ok videotape your kid talking about the incident.

Please talk to an attorney with experience in these types of cases about the potentially significant risks related to videotaping your child talking about the incident. These are delicate situations that typically involve trained forensic experts, and untrained questioning of child survivors of abuse can potentially cause harm, both to your child and the investigation.
posted by Little Dawn at 2:56 PM on May 31 [10 favorites]

(I assumed -- perhaps wrongly -- that a staff member was responsible for the abuse. I might have other advice if it's another student. But anyway:)

You need to call a lawyer; you might start with one who does disabled student advocate work (ensuring students' legal rights are upheld via IEPs and things), who will have a network and be able to put you in touch with a lawyer who can handle this more specialized situation if they can't. Civil rights attorneys and disability attorneys and general education attorneys are also good options. You might also ask a neighborhood group online for recommendations (somebody's sued the district and was happy with their lawyer). If at all possible, do not go into a meeting with the school district without your lawyer. It doesn't have to be an adversarial process at all (and you can tell the lawyer, you don't want to fight just to fight, but you want to ensure your child is protected and the abuser has no further contact with children), but you want someone looking out for you and your child. The school district will have a lawyer; the staff member is probably unionized and will thus have a union-provided lawyer; you shouldn't be the only people without one, not when your child was the victim.

In my school district (when I was on the board) we had a couple of incidents like this, usually where an aide lost their shit with a disabled student, and our interest as the district was FIRING THE FUCK OUT OF THEM and referring them to the police and DCFS and ensuring their certifications were flagged by the state board of ed so they could never work in education again. We expected to pay a settlement to the family; while we wanted to be good stewards of taxpayer money and not just throw around cash, we expected a lawsuit or settlement demand. In general, our insurer paid those settlements, up to a certain amount. (In general, attorneys active in that space know what that amount is and ask for just under what the insurer will pay out for claims of that type.) This process typically went through lawyers and 99.9999999% of the time was settled. Like I said, we expected to pay the settlement and didn't contest it, but there were important reasons to do it through the legal process so all the legal liability was settled and there are legal documents laying out what happened so the school can't later disclaim responsibility and so on.

It's good that they're calling in an external investigative team, and that gives me hope that you've got an administration that's on the side of the students and the side of your kid. (Honestly, nothing fucking infuriated us more as school board members than this kind of thing.) There are definitely school systems who will go to the mat defending terrible staff members and be very adversarial with students, but this (at least initially) sounds promising.

Has there been any contact with DCFS(/child services)? Usually this is a mandatory reporting situation where child services will be alerted -- they would be an EXCELLENT point of assistance for getting you and your child connected to resources to help you with coping with the aftermath, including whatever low- or no-cost services you might be entitled to. If not, I would call your pediatrician's office, briefly explain what happened, and ask if you (or you & kid) can come in for a talking appointment where the pediatrician can help you figure out your next steps as a family to deal with the aftermath. (This is a super-normal thing to do and your pediatrician will be a great help.)

Feel free to memail me if I can answer any more specific questions from someone who's been on the school board's side of this equation and has been through the process a few times.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:23 PM on May 31 [6 favorites]

The part of my advice that's different if it's another student is:

a) the district may not be financially liable and there may not be a settlement. But it is probably still possible to get extra resources for your child and extra protections in the future.

b) the district cannot "get rid of" an abuser child. They can be expelled, but they remain the responsibility of the district (and generally expulsions are time-limited); depending on the size and resources of the district, they may at some point return to the building with your child. In general, because your child is the victim, your child has priority of placement and the other child's placements must be done in such a way that they don't interfere with your child's preferences.

c) sometimes when it's another student, the best course of action is to get a restraining order against the other child (it may, perversely, give the district more options); your attorney can advise you if that's common in your area.

d) DCFS may not have been notified; I don't know exactly the rules for that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:49 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

Okay. I've calmed down some.

It was a paraprofessional that hurt my son. The principal is aware and is bringing in an external investigative team. I've gone to the police and made an official report. On Monday the cop that works as the school resource officer will go in and question the staff. We may be contacted by a Detective after that.

My son is spending his weekend with his dad. He's sad that someone he liked hurt him and confused why we're upset, so I'm spending time trying to calm down for when he comes home Sunday night. I have to remain calm around him.

His dad took him for the weekend and they had dinner at a hibachi restaurant tonight, and my son right now is tweeting me pictures of the big onion volcano and telling me he's eating shrimp, which is the first one he's ever had.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 5:16 PM on May 31 [15 favorites]

Question. How do I go about getting a restraining order against the staff member so he can't approach my kid? Do I go back to the police? Imma Google this. Lords.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 5:31 AM on June 1

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