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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Family wants Fulton to pick up education tab for student they say was abused.

By D. Aileen Dodd
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The question of determining whether Fulton County Schools should pay for private educational services for a special needs student who was allegedly abused by his teacher from 2006 to 2007 is nearing a conclusion.

A law firm representing the school district concluded the presentation of evidence in the case last week in the Office of State Administrative Hearings. Administrative law Judge Kim Schroer is expected to make a ruling by January.

The case questions whether Fulton County Schools properly followed federal protocol in providing services for former Hopewell Middle School student Alex Williams, now 18, who suffers from cerebral palsy, takes medication for seizures and is treated for multiple other disorders.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, school districts must educate students with disabilities, provide the support they need to learn, and work with their parents to make sure their individualized learning plan is being followed.

Chris Vance, a lawyer for the family, said Fulton Schools did not inform them about a known abusive teacher at Hopewell Middle. Witnesses at the school reported that the teacher had been punishing students by hitting them, leaving them tied to a chair in the dark and humiliating them.

"They wanted to cover it up," Vance said. "He was restrained in a chair, pushed into a room with no windows and left by himself in the dark. She hit them. She kicked them. She screamed at them. Now, he is a child with PTSD. When he's in a room with no window, he says, ‘Lights on! Lights on! Lights on!' "
Vance said the school's principal Frances Boyd, now retired, failed to investigate reports of teacher Melanie Pickens' alleged abuse. Pickens' teaching credentials have been revoked by the Professional Standards Commission, the agency charged with overseeing the conduct of certified teachers.

Fulton Schools' Marietta attorney in the case, Glen Brock, would not comment on the proceedings. A district official said the system takes the matter seriously and has changed policy in the hopes of preventing incidents like this. The system updated its Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting policy in August. It requires the mandatory reporting of the offenses as required by law and compels school employees to become familiar with the policies and procedures concerning child abuse.

"Something wrong obviously happened here," said Samantha Evans, spokeswoman for the district. "The things that the teacher and the principal are being accused of are just things that we would not like to see happen to any child."
Vance said Williams has regressed in his development and has become less verbal and less mobile. The administrative case is the first step in the family's pursuit of a federal and state lawsuit against the district and administrators who had knowledge of the teacher's alleged abuse, but did not report it.

Investigators hired by Fulton County Schools and from the state's Professional Standards Commission said there was abuse. No criminal charges have been filed in the case, Vance said, adding that the statute of limitations has not been exhausted.

Williams is one of several students whose parents are investigating abuse claims at Hopewell Middle.

Vance said she will ask that the district pay for his private education at home and training in his community so he can learn to become more independent. Williams is one of several students whose parents are investigating abuse claims at Hopewell Middle.

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