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Michigan Teacher Accused of Abusing Student With Cerebral Palsy, Lawsuit Alleges

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A teacher at High Point School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, allegedly abused a student with cerebral palsy, a federal lawsuit filed against the teacher Nesa Johnson, school principal Anne Nakon and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, claims.

According to the lawsuit, Johnson taped the student’s mouth shut in March 2016. Johnson then texted a photo of the student with tape over her mouth to her mother, Doreen Smith. The caption read: “Help. She won’t be quiet!!!!”

The student, who The Mighty is not naming out of respect for her privacy, has cognitive impairments, a history of seizures and is nonverbal. The student, 26, was in her 20s when the allegations happened. In Michigan, students who are eligible for special education programs can attend school until the age of 25.

“Taping a special-needs student’s mouth shut is appalling in-and-of-itself, but was especially torturous for [the student], who is physically unable to remove the tape, has trouble breathing and clearing her throat, and breathes out of her mouth,” the lawsuit claims. “Defendant Johnson’s actions put [the student’s] life in jeopardy.”

The lawsuit alleges that the abuse escalated from there. The student would come home with scratches and bruises that couldn’t have been self-inflicted due to of a lack of manual dexterity. When Smith called the school about the injuries, the school said the student had inflicted them herself.

“The school’s victim blaming here is baffling,” Jonathan Marko, the attorney representing the student told The Mighty. “Why didn’t any of the school’s employees report this to the parents or the State of Michigan as they were required to do by law?”

The Social Welfare Act requires school employees and others in human services fields to report to social services any neglect, abuse, or exploitation of an adult. No such reports were made.

In February 2017, almost a year after the tape incident, the student was slapped in the face by a school district employee at her bus stop. The bus driver witnessed it and told the girl’s mother.

Other incidents include third-degree burns received in a different teacher’s class. The school replied that the student caused the third-degree burns on her thighs, the result of spilled hot coffee, herself.

According to the lawsuit, the student does not have the dexterity to reach and knock over a container of liquid. Smith did not learn of her daughter’s injuries until she picked her up from school that day.

In response to the lawsuit, Washtenaw Intermediate School District released a statement stating it was unaware of any complaints until nearly a year after the allegations occurred, though Marko said the family reached out to the school about each incident as they became aware of them. After being informed, the district said it conducted a complete investigation and took remedial action.

The Mighty reached out to the school district’s lawyer, Tim Mullins, to find out what type of action was taken and has yet to hear back.

Neither Johnson nor Nakon are still employed with the school district, The Detroit Free Press reported. They were not fired, and a school district spokeswoman could not say whether the departures were related to the allegations.

Allegations like these are not uncommon. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, people with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be the victims of violent crimes. Crimes, which, according to The Ruderman Family Foundation, are penalized less harshly due to the caregiver’s perceived “hardship.”

Photo via Washtenaw Intermediate School District website.

Originally published: November 8, 2017
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