ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Washtenaw Intermediate School District said a family waited nearly a year to report an Ann Arbor teacher taped a special needs student's mouth shut and sent pictures to the student's mother.
The district released a statement after a lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Washtenaw County. The school district, High Point School's former principal, teachers and teacher aides are all named in the federal lawsuit. District spokeswoman Emma Jackson said the district did not receive any complaint until nearly a year after the alleged incident happened. Moreover, the student remained at the school in the same teacher's classroom, she said.
"The Washtenaw ISD wants to assure the parents of our district that we take the health, safety, and education of all of our students very seriously. As to the subject of this lawsuit, the family did not report this, or any other complaint to the district until nearly a year after it occurred. During that subsequent year, the student continued attending school, in the same classroom, with the same teacher. When we were first informed of the family’s concern, we immediately conducted a complete investigation and took appropriate remedial action," Jackson wrote in an email Thursday morning.
If details outlined in the federal lawsuit prove true, officials said it could raise questions about the many students with special needs who walk through the doors.
Attorney Jonathan Marko represents the student's family. He said the student, who is a 26-year-old woman, attended classes in the district for more than a decade.
In those years, the student, who's cognitively impaired and has multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy, was abused, neglected and physically assaulted in the classroom, according to the lawsuit.
"(She's) been through this horrible, horrible ordeal that went on a lot longer than anyone had originally known," Marko said.
The family claims she suffered third-degree burns "when scalding hot coffee was spilled on her" and that "WISD agents intentionally over-medicated to mollify, pacify and sedate" the student, who is confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak.
One of the most serious allegations centers around accusations that a teacher taped the student's mouth shut because she was making noises. Then, the teacher is accused of snapping a picture and texting it to the student's mother.
Why didn't the family pull the student out of the district sooner?
"She's not able to (drive a) car for herself," Marko said. "It's not like there are a lot of options."
They did take action when a bus driver witnessed a teacher slapping the student, according to the lawsuit. The bus driver was allegedly so disturbed, she informed the mother of the incident.
"They realized the school wasn't doing anything and these weren't accidents, and she was truly being abused," Marko said.