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Alleged violence against students, staff prompted civil suit against district
Plaintiff also seeks restraining order against student
FARMINGTON — A Piedra Vista High School special education assistant has filed a civil complaint against the Farmington Municipal School District for allegedly failing to take action in regard to a student with disabilities who has been violent at school.
The plaintiff, Rhonda Johanson-Bradford, is also seeking a restraining order against the 14-year-old student, who is autistic, until the issue can be taken to court.
According to the complaint, the student, identified as “TC” in court documents, is “a severely disabled child” who is mostly nonverbal. He is approximately 6-foot-4 and weighs between 280 and 285 pounds.
The complaint alleges that TC has been violent toward Bradford and other students in Bradford’s life skills class in several instances since August, including two incidents when TC allegedly kicked and punched Bradford, causing physical injury requiring medical attention that resulted in Bradford missing five and three days of work, respectively.
TC also allegedly has attacked other teachers and students in Bradford’s class, including an incident where he “attempted to physically remove (another student’s) braces” and another in which a teacher suffered a concussion after TC struck him in the head, according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that the district “has failed to take any remedial action of any kind, save for the single three-day suspension for attacking another student,” and that TC had been transferred to Piedra Vista due to problems at other schools.
“Despite repeated incidents of physical violence towards the teachers, educational assistants and fellow students, the defendant, Farmington Municipal Schools, refuses to take appropriate action in the form of suspension, expulsion, or creating an interim alternative education setting,” the complaint states.
Bradford and her supervisory teacher allegedly repeatedly have asked the district to remove the student from the classroom or take other action to no avail besides the school’s plans to switch Bradford into another classroom, according to the complaint.
State law allows school personnel “under special circumstances … to remove a student to an interim alternative education setting for not more than 45 school days,” an option for which TC “clearly is eligible,” according to the complaint.
Farmington Municipal School District Superintendent Eugene Schmidt declined to comment on the case, saying he cannot comment on pending litigation, but he said that the district is attempting to find a balance.
“The question really is about what is the (individual education plan) for the child,” Schmidt said on Nov. 21, adding “certainly we’re concerned for students’ and staff’s safety, so we are trying to find that balance where students can get educated and staff feel safe.”
The board’s policy manual on special education services states that “special education students are not immune from school disciplinary processes, nor are they entitled to remain in a particular educational program when their behavior substantially impairs the education of other students in the program.”
The policy was adopted in 2008, but was updated in 2009, 2011 and 2013, according to the district website. Schmidt said the pending case could prompt a change in the policy, but that has not been determined and depends on the outcome of the case. The board reviews its policy manual in its entirety every spring, Schmidt said.
Branda Parker, director of the San Juan Center for Independence, a Farmington nonprofit organization that serves and advocates for people with disabilities, said there is no reason why TC should be treated differently than any other student who acts violently.
“Any other kid that would have done this would have been suspended or expelled, so what’s the difference?” Parker said on Nov. 17. “…. If (it was) any other child, then why would you not suspend the child that’s causing all this. You’re putting teachers in danger, you’re putting other students in danger — why is that acceptable?”
Parker said in-school suspension could be a solution for TC if the school could devote a teacher or an aid to work with him to figure out what causes his violent behavior, but in that solution, the school faces another problem.
“We have some really good special education teachers — don’t get me wrong,” Parker said. “But when they don’t have the proper trainings because the schools can’t pay for them — and I’m not saying it’s the schools’ fault because the money trickles down from the state — and they’re so worried about evaluations and they’re so worried about student testing and where our teachers are ranking that we’re forgetting what these schools are for. It’s for our students — doesn’t matter if you have a disability or not."
Bradford has been working at Piedra Vista since 2007, according to the school’s staff directory. Schmidt said both Bradford and TC are still in the classroom at the school. There is a hearing regarding the restraining order scheduled for Dec. 5 in Farmington District Court, according to court documents.
Megan Petersen covers business and education at The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.