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Do You Know What the Laws Are In Your State?

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Do you know what would happen if a school employee were to harm your child intentionally while in the care of the public school? Do you? I assumed I did also. If you check the laws in your state, you may be shocked with what you discover.

At the end of the last day of school before Christmas break, I picked up our 5-year-old son up from the after-school program at his elementary school. He and his principal were walking the school hallways. He had a meltdown over a toy that had been taken to show and tell that morning and needed time to calm down. Once buckled in the car and on our way home, I asked how the rest of his day had been, as I ordinarily do. He responded, “Well mom, they tried to kill me!” Chuckling to myself, I nearly dismissed this as some 5-year-old dramatics, but then he spoke the words that made me listen: “she saw it, she said ‘we can’t do that,’ but the other girl still did it.” It felt like time stopped for a moment while I was processing this, and our quick drive home felt much lengthier.

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Arriving at home, I knelt on the living room floor to be more on his level. I requested that he demonstrate exactly what had occurred. With his teenage sister watching, he wrapped his little arms around my neck from behind and squeezed tight. This movement must have exposed his neck from behind the collar of the polo shirt he was wearing because my daughter’s eyes got wide and she exclaimed loudly, “Mom, he has red marks on his neck!” He did indeed have red marks on each side of his neck. Then it hit me: a grown woman had put my 5-year-old in a choke hold because he was having a meltdown. A second adult witnessed this action, yet did nothing to stop it from occurring.

While attempting to get my partner on the phone to inform him of the situation, I loaded my children and my daughter’s boyfriend into the car and returned immediately to the school. I managed to stay calm while I met with the principal and informed her what had occurred. She sank silently and gradually into her chair, her eyes enlarging while she was processing what my son voiced to her had happened, and she informed me that she would review the video and contact me before leaving for the evening. The call never came.

Consequently, the next morning I filed an official complaint with the school superintendent’s office via fax, simultaneously filing the first open-records request to assure that the video mentioned did not merely vanish. Later that day, an officer phoned me on my cell while I was at work. He and two social workers “happened to be in the neighborhood” and they asked to drop by our house and interview our son about the events, naïvely I agreed, though neither of us was home. Our son was spending his day at home with his grandmother playing while we were working, and we hadn’t even mentioned the event to her until five minutes before a police officer and two social workers were knocking on the door.

Two weeks later, the children returned to school and we were informed that social services had accepted the case for investigation. Accordingly, we were told no one with the school system was permitted to even discuss the event with us. As a result, we had to hire an attorney to get a meeting with district personnel. It was essential to us that we had assurance our child would be safe and to know what their plan was to prevent this from happening again. We felt the school needed to assure us that the individual in question would not have any contact with our child pending the official investigations completion.

Eventually, the attorney for the school system responded to the attorney representing us and she forwarded the email to me. The tone was dismissive, and the attorney gave the impression that she felt our request was a waste of her valuable time, indicating “disciplinary action had been taken,” and that we should be satisfied with that. Copying both attorneys with my reply, I asserted, “I am sure we are all aware that disciplinary action can be anything from a verbal warning to a termination. That is not an acceptable response. Something happened to our child while in the care of the public-school system. Someone will explain what is being done to prevent this from happening again.”

Our son has disabilities, nevertheless, we assumed we had done everything possible to protect him in the public school. Relocating to this neighborhood specifically for the school zone. Requesting an evaluation be done by the school system and an IEP in place for him on his first day of kindergarten.

To our astonishment, we were advised that an IEP does not transition automatically to the after-school program. The school’s attorney notified us that as it was an entirely separate program, there should have been a 504 in place for the after-school program in addition to the IEP he had with the school. Despite our hours of research, we had never happened upon that information. When a 504 was requested for the after-school program, we were informed that a student could not have both, an IEP and a 504. Thus, it appears that even the professionals don’t know what the rules for this are either.

We’ve had to schedule another meeting with our attorney present to acquire a 504 for the after-school program.

We have filed six or seven open-records requests with various agencies and divisions thus far to obtain a copy of the incident report. The reply we received from social services was, “you are not entitled to that information.” Summarization, something happened to your kindergartener while he was in the custody and care of the public-school system, and you are not entitled to know what that was. Surprisingly when we attempted to get a copy of the police report, the local police department had no record of it. The officer I spoke with was nice enough to inform me that the public-school system employs their own police force handling their own investigations internally.

They have obstructed us for over two months now, and the only thing we know about what happened to our son is what he has been able to communicate to us, and he just turned 6 years old. The timeline of events he can portray to us majorly lacking. Last week, a representative from the school system phoned to inform us that social services had finally closed their investigation. The school system has now been given the authorization to start their own investigation of events, therefore they needed to schedule a time to talk to our son.

Under Kentucky law, if your child is intentionally hurt in a public-school setting, the school must first report the occurrence to social services and give any video and documentation to them. If Social Services chooses to step in and investigate the event, there is no requirement for them to notify the child’s parents.

That is correct. The parents are not permitted to be informed of an investigation, and social services will not consent for the school system to discuss the event with the parents at all. Social workers can interview your child, without disclosing why or requiring parental permission. They may go through your child’s school records and speak with your child’s pediatrician without telling you. There is no legal requirement to alert the parents until the investigation is completed. Kentucky is also one of the few states with no guidelines on how long an investigation may be.

When the investigation is finally completed, they will mail you a “letter of finding” via certified mail. Once that letter is received, there is a requirement that you sign a waiver before they will relinquish your child’s records and information regarding their investigation to you. Another discovery, if it were the other way around and child services were investigating the parents, social services would notify the child’s school and pediatrician of that investigation, but they would not notify the parents it was going on unless they remove the child.

Interestingly in our circumstances, the accused school employee receives a letter informing them of the accusation and a pamphlet outlying the process that will occur.

Let me reiterate: they notify the accused person and explain the investigation process to them, but do not tell the child’s parents anything. They notify the person who possibly harmed your child. The individual who could know your child’s address, normal activities or other personal information, but it is not necessary to alert the child’s parents.

What if the child in question were nonverbal, how would the parents know? The only reason we were aware of this is that I was the one who filed the initial report. Imagine that a parent was not aware of an ongoing investigation and encountered the person who abused or assaulted their child while at the grocery store, or the mall. How does this system protect the child at all? Some children might even need counseling after an incident like this, but the parents do not know so they cannot contact a professional, and in our case, we don’t know exactly what even occurred.

This whole system was designed to protect someone, but it wasn’t the children.

There is no crystal ball to tell us what the outcome of this will be, or if we will ever see an incident report or video. Our son will not sleep alone anymore and refuses to discuss the incident with us, most likely because he knows he was wrong for his behavior. The entire process must be changed. I wonder how many more of us experiencing this ridiculousness are out there.

Originally published: March 7, 2018
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