By Dorie Johnson, as told to Redwood City Patch Editor Stacie Chan
(Editor’s Note: Dorie Johnson was a former employee of the Redwood City School District until she left of her own accord after she witnessed some disturbing behavior from a special education teacher’s aide. She filed an abuse report with Child Protective Services, and through the district. All employees’ and students’ names have been omitted to protect privacy.
UPDATE: The Redwood City School District addressing Ms. Johnson's allegations.
This case is unrelated to the , who allegedly abused special education children.)
My History with the District
Since the day my daughter began kindergarten in 1995, I have been an active parent at the . My two other sons, , and my other son, who was a special ed student, also went through the district.
I never paid attention when my son told me that the special education teachers were mean. I knew they had to discipline the students and be firm at times.
I was a paid employee at the Redwood City School District for 10 years between 1998 and 2007. I worked at doing various tasks, including yard duty and a three-year position as a volunteer coordinator. I took a five-year break to work at a family business, then resumed a position on Feb. 10 of this year as a special education teacher’s assistant with the district.
For the first day I was assigned to , then two days at , and then moved to the campus on Feb. 15. I wasn’t told much, but happily obliged.
The K-2 classroom of eight to nine autistic children seemed pretty well run and efficient at first glance. But on the very first day of school, there was one aide of five who was constantly yelling. The aide would even yell at another aide to yell at the students if she wanted them to do her bidding. But the aide refused to comply, saying she wouldn’t yell. I felt instant discomfort.
On the second day, Student 1 refused to leave the outside play area to come inside. The aide grabbed him by the wrist and tried to wrestle him towards his desk. He was twisting and turning trying to break free when she let him go. Bam, he went to the floor, face down in a heap.
I started questioning her behavior to another aide, asking her if this was normal. She responded that when the former teacher was here, the teacher ran a tight ship but never crossed the line. The teacher left on Feb. 10 for maternity leave and was replaced by a substitute teacher.
Since I had no formal special education training from the district, I didn’t know exactly what constituted “abuse.” Did yelling count? Were teachers allowed to even touch students to restrain them from dangerous behavior?
I returned the following week, only to have the aide continue her angry behavior. On Feb. 21, Student 2 was sitting by himself humming in a back and forth motion waiting to come to circle time. Rather than gently asking him to stop, the aide was yelling at him by name saying “QUIET. BE QUIET.” The substitute teacher was sitting there the whole time not even bothered by the tone of her voice.
Every aide has their own child to manage, so, in the most generous terms, it’s possible they didn’t witness this behavior. But the substitute teacher would sit at his desk the entire time and never intervene.
Another incident occurred when Student 3 wanted to go into the play yard where the rest of us were. The aide started wrestling with him to bring him back inside the classroom. “That’s it!” she yelled, aggravated and frustrated. She picked him up and shut the door behind her. She was in angry parent mode every day.
On Wednesday, Feb. 29, Student 4 was having his daily meltdown around noon when he would crawl under a table and refuse to leave. The aide became fed up with him and tried to pull him out from under the table. He scrambled out and intentionally knocked over her coffee cup that he saw on a table. She then picked him up angrily then set him on the ground.
Going to Child Protective Services
I knew this was way out of line. I had been teaching at other schools and never saw other teachers cross the line like this. To get more information, I started making phone calls to teachers in other school districts. They told me this behavior was something to be concerned about.
So the following Monday, March 5, I met with the principal of Roosevelt Elementary. She told me she had heard about my concerns from other aides and asked me if she should call Child Protective Services. I opted to file a report through the district. I have no idea when they’ll get back to me, but I’m supposed to wait around until they investigate.
I then went to the district’s behavioral psychologist to explain what I had witnessed over the past couple of weeks. I got the attitude from him as if he were saying “tell your little story and we’ll be done with you.” He never probed for further details or asked more about the aide’s behavior. “The guidelines are stressful,” he explained, as if that excused her actions.
I then asked him what the guidelines were for restraining children. Only if they are a danger to themselves or trying to injure others, he said.
In my head, I recalled the few times when I had to restrain some children, when they were acting out and even scratched me, causing my arm to bleed. But I locked their arms and legs until I could feel their body loosen, then released them while calmly telling them to “Stop. Stop.”
The aide would use restraining as a punishment when the students wouldn’t listen to her.
Trying to Remove Me
The following day, March 6, I returned to the school to find out that they had removed me from that room and placed me in another room. The rationale was that they needed me there instead. But the teacher in the new room was surprised to see me and had no idea I was coming. If they so badly needed me there, why did they not even inform that teacher?
I knew what they were doing. They were trying to shift me to another classroom to keep me out of that room. But I had made up my mind that they were not going to keep me out of that classroom. I was terrified not being able to watch the children, knowing that they weren’t safe.
Was I supposed to wait until June when she might have hit Student 4 by then? The aide might have completely lost control by then. And to report anything that I thought might constitute child abuse.
So I called CPS and filed a report through the phone.
Going to the District
On March 9, I called the Superintendent. Her secretary told me that she’d call me back and was available March 19. Eleven days after I had called to report a very serious matter.
Finally the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent called me on March 13 to say that they had time to speak with me.
But I wasn’t going to speak with them. I was going to talk to someone who was going to listen immediately. The district didn’t do what was best for the children, and it seems like they didn’t want to.
The parents of these children need to know what’s going on in the classroom. These are the most vulnerable children in our society, who can barely speak for themselves, and the district turned away.
I’m not sure what the next steps are, but parents must know what is going on. In the first few days, aides told me in secrecy that “if you talk, you’re gone.” Well, I’m still talking.
Update: I was asked to sub at Kennedy Middle School on March 7, then received no more calls of requests to sub.
I also have an appointment with the Deputy Superintendent on Thursday, March 15.
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