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Why I Filed a Child Abuse Report Against a Special Ed Aide

"If I have to stand at the corner of the street with a megaphone, I will get the word out about what I saw in that room."

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.)

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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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Dorie Bonal Johnson March 14, 2012 at 06:35 PM
@ Roosevelt Parents..Wrong, it's comments like yours that motivate me. Keep 'em coming.
Sarah Fuhs March 14, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Hi Roosevelt Parent, Clearly, the "proper channels" failed to work in this case. As parents, we choose how to best handle our child's behavior, but it is NOT our teachers prerogative to handle discipline and teaching with abuse, intimidation, or anger. As for jeopardizing other students learning? I believe people would be more inclined to want to be assigned these rooms when they've been cleared of bullying and inappropriate teachers. Dorie, thank you for doing your job (yes, while on the clock :-). Clearly, you understand that your job involves much more than just being present.
RWC Parent March 14, 2012 at 07:11 PM
If you knew Dorie, you'd know that she is not prone to exaggeration. I don't feel comfortable leaving my name, but I've known Dorie for many years and I support her fully. I am convinced that Dorie is doing this only because she cares about our children (all of our children).
Jamie White (Editor) March 14, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Thank you to everyone who has commented on this piece so far... and especially to Dorie for shedding light on what she says she witnessed. I am a former teacher, a parent and the regional editor for Redwood City Patch and want all of you to know Stacie has and is making very effort to get a response, any response from the school district to add and will keep all of you updated.
Cheri Nicholls Beering March 14, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Roosevelt Parent, you imply you know exactly how it is to handle a special needs child as you have one of your own, which implies you feel educated regarding their care. If I read this article correctly Mrs Johnson also has a special needs child. So I am in a quandary as to your questioning her ability or training in the area of handling such situations. On top of having the same training as a parent like your self, she also has 10 plus years experience working with children in the Redwood City school district. I for one feel insulted that you feel as though people such as myself who agree with Mrs Johnson that a closer look or investigation is warranted, are nothing but "EGGING " her on. This is your child, I suggest you take a closer look and leave nothing to chance. If you can disregard even the smallest of chance, I really question your parenting skills.
Lea Cuniberti-Duran March 14, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Regardless of where you stand, the article speaks about the desperate need of training for teachers and teacher aides in ALL schools across the district. The district need to ensure that whomever is in contact with children (sp ed or not) has the appropriate credential, training, support and background check.
Stacie Chan (Editor) March 14, 2012 at 10:41 PM
To clarify, the reason I wrote "The District was not available for an *immediate* comment" was that I had sent an email after hours at 6:15pm Tuesday night. (This was as soon as I got off the phone with Dorie Johnson.) It was unreasonable to expect a response that late in the day, which is why I said I would do a follow-up with the district's response. The reason I decided to run this story immediately was that there had already been comments made by Dorie on another Patch article about this very serious issue. I felt it was more important to clarify her remarks then let them sit in an open forum. The district has always given me information and a response when I've requested it. We have always had a very understanding relationship, and I appreciate its efforts to give whatever information they can. I knew I only needed to send an email and they would get back to me as soon as possible. They have already been in contact with me and more information will be available shortly.
Steve Hayes March 15, 2012 at 03:09 AM
I am a little confused by this article - is Ms Johnson saying four different aides abused four different children - or is it one aide abusing 4 different children? Also at the beginning of the article it said these incidents were not related to the Ms. Bogdis situation - just how unrelated are they? Based on information I have read all of the incidents happened at the same school and impacted children with the same learning special needs. Was it the same classroom? and were these aides involved in the accusations leveled at Ms. Bogdis? Are we to assume that more people should be charged with student abuse? Or is Ms. Bogdis being charged for things while others are not? Please clarify.
Dorie Bonal Johnson March 15, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Steve, it was 1 aide of 4, being abusive to the Autistic kids. The relation to Ms. Bogdis is SAME SCHOOL, SAME PRINCIPAL, SAME SCOTT YARBROUGH and the atmosphere is "Don't look, Don't tell." because if you do, we won't listen. Abuse to children, abuse of power. Child abuse is the physical or psychological/emotional mistreatment of children.
Marcy March 15, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Just to clarify... the original incident happened at a RCSD preschool on the Roosevelt campus. Ms. Bogdis's preschool was run by the district and was not a part of Roosevelt Elementary school in any way. Please get your information correct.
Liz Ditz March 15, 2012 at 05:28 AM
I have responded to this article at my own blog: http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2012/03/should-our-local-patch-have-published-this-article.html
RCSD Mom March 15, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Shame on you Patch for publishing this story. http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2012/03/should-our-local-patch-have-published-this-article.html
Liz Ditz March 15, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I have updated my blog post to include Superintendent Christiansen's comments http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2012/03/should-our-local-patch-have-published-this-article.html?cid=6a00d83451b6fc69e2016302defb07970d#comment-6a00d83451b6fc69e2016302defb07970d The Patch as a whole claims We’re a community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities. Unanswered questions: Why didn't Stacie Chan wait 24 hours to get the District's side of this story? Why did Stacie Chan publish information that allowed the identification of the classroom, the students, the substitute teacher, and the aides? When did Dorie Johnson place students in basket holds? Was it in 2012 or earlier, before she was employed by the District? Why did the Patch allow Johnson and others to name names in the comments?
Liz Ditz March 15, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Jamie White, why did Stacie Chan publish information that allowed the identification of the exact classroom in the story, the students' first names, the aides' first names, and the full name and photograph of the substitute teacher? Surely that's a violation ofp privacy.
Alicia March 15, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Relax, folks. The matter's been brought to our attention (thank you Dorie - whom I don't know). The school may be hoping to protect itself (deja vu Penn State). So let the investigation begin. Sometimes it takes just one person.
Teacher March 15, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Dorie, like you yourself said you have no formal training in special ed and it shows. "Since I had no formal special education training from the district, I didn’t know exactly what constituted “abuse.” The sdc classroom looks very different than a regular class. I too have worked with Autistic students and there are some student's that would bang their head against concrete. Should we let them do that Dorie? Or let them try to slam their heads against other students? Or should we try to safely restrain them to protect themselves and the other students? For any parent that has no idea what an autistic classroom looks like I suggest you schedule an appointment to see one because based off of all of your responses, none of you have any arguments grounded in knowledge. Ignorance is not always bliss. Educate yourself.
Liz Ditz March 15, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Lea, it isn't just the RCSD, it is all across California. It's a consequence of the lack of investment in education.
RWCmom March 15, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Teacher - Well said! I support that.
Dorie Bonal Johnson March 15, 2012 at 11:07 PM
I've been asked not to comment on these remarks until Wednesday.
Liz Ditz March 15, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Thank you Teacher. Some autistic children (and adults) have very challenging behaviors. It is a pity that Ms. Johnson was sent in as a classroom aide with no training. According to the California State Education code, http://law.justia.com/codes/california/2010/edc/45340-45349.html (b) Educational qualifications for instructional aides shall be prescribed by the school district employer and shall be appropriate to the responsibilities to be assigned. RCSD only requires a HS diploma or GED. Palo Alto requires an AA degree and the starting salary is much higher. Of course, PAUSD is a much wealthier district than RCSD, in part because they have a parcel tax.
Parent March 15, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Dear Teacher, I think you need to read the article closer. I"m a special ed parent and I find your comments offensive but of course you're entitled to your opinion. My interpretation of what the article was saying was that the aide was using physical means in a way that was not protecting the student or others but rather "The aide would use restraining as a punishment when the students wouldn’t listen to her." I don't know if you'd be willing to share what district you teach in and if you work with special ed students. I'm not willing to post my own name. Why expose myself to the abuse that takes place in this type of forum.
Lea Cuniberti-Duran March 15, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Teacher: as a parent of a child with autism and an advocate for all children, I feel very distressed about your comment. It implies that you have a great deal of experience, but it also tells me you have a very little training in behavior analysis as well as positive behavior modification. Classrooms run by teachers with appropriate training in behavior modification, don't look very different from any other classroom. Believe me, I have seen them! Those classroom are headed by teachers who understand that behavior is a form of communication and know how to prevent and address it appropriately and positively. If your classroom looks anything like you have described it, with student hitting other students, or using self-injuries behavior, that is a huge red flag to me. I have not idea what happened in that classroom at Roosevelt, but I can also tell you that special ed kids are innappropriately restrained and harmed every day, in classroom across America. Please read this article about what inappropriate use of restraint (sometimes lethal) does to children http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-05-18-restraint-special-ed_N.htm The district need to invest training and give teachers and paraprofessional the tools to create a safe and nourishing learning environment. Children with developmental differences need to be treated with the same dignity and respect as any other child: they may be different but they are not less. The district needs to ensure that.
Teacher March 16, 2012 at 01:24 AM
To: Lea Cuniberti-Duran As a parent of an autistic student I am sure you are well aware of the budget cuts. Since you are not in the classroom as a teacher, I am sure you are not as well aware of the budget cuts putting students that should be placed in county schools or more restrictive settings into public schools. Therefore, sdc teacher's and instructional assistants are put on the front lines and work really hard to help these students that have extremely dangerous and unprovoked behaviors. However, there is not always money in the budget for trainings that should be mandatory. I don't think the blame should be put upon the teachers that work hard to support the students and parents. I think a huge problem is the state budget being slashed and not providing much support to these teachers.
everlearn March 16, 2012 at 02:58 AM
It is a procedural safeguard of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) that any person [including parents, students, teachers, and agency representatives] may file a special education non-compliance complaint with the CA Dept. of Education (CDE) and may request direct investigation when a child or children are alleged to be at risk of harm. Retaliation, as a result of one's advocacy on behalf of a student or students receiving special education services, also is an allegation of non-compliance that may be investigated: CDE Procedural Safeguards and Referral Services, 800-926-0648, speceducation@cde.ca.gov Also, the US Dept of Education Office for Civil Rights just released a March 2012 data report that alarmingly demonstrates how disproportionately students with disabilities and students of color are subjected to restraint, and harsh discipline. "Students with Disabilities: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/crdc-2012-data-summary.pdf Excerpt: Physical Restraint Students with Disabilities: Mechanical Restraint African-American students represent 21% of students with disabilities (under the IDEA), but 44% of students with disabilities who are subject to mechanical restraint. Students with disabilities (under the IDEA and Section 504 statutes) represent 12% of students in the sample, but nearly 70% of the students who are physically restrained by adults in their schools."
Lea Cuniberti-Duran March 16, 2012 at 03:05 AM
Teacher, every single parent of a child with special need is familiar with the budget argument! Parents with children much older than mine were told about problem with the budget, even during the economic boom of the 90s when California was ranking revenues. We are also very familiar with the "encroachment argument" which has been used by districts for years to blame special needs children for the failure of educating all students. We are portrayed as greedy when in fact all we are asking for our kids to be educated so they can lead a productive life without being a burden to the tax payers later on (even for the most impacted there is a difference not just in dignity but even in cost between living somewhat independently rather than institutionalized). We also ask for our kids to be taught in an environment that is safe. If you, as a teacher, have been told by your district that you cannot be trained for something as basic as classroom management, because of budget cuts, then we are in real deep trouble.
Roosevelt Parent March 16, 2012 at 04:47 AM
Please read Liz Ditz's link to her blog. It dissects the opinion published by the Patch and sheds light on the facts as opposed to all of the opinions published here. Perhaps the Patch should consider deactivating the blogs associated with these articles.
Roosevelt Parent March 16, 2012 at 04:49 AM
I hope all of those who are on these blogs are involved in some way with the proposed parcel tax for the schools in RWC- much more effective to get involved in something like that than to complain here.
John Foley March 21, 2012 at 07:17 AM
Retaliation is the mother's milk of RCSD. They have lost some great staff....many were advocates for the children and paid a hefty price. I will not support any parcel tax until there is a through housecleaning on Bradford.
Sha December 01, 2012 at 12:37 AM
I am a person who is trained and did report an SDC teacher for her behavior in the classroom and was released from my position. She is still in the classroom. Whether Dorie is trained or not, you know right from wrong. You are dealing with some people who take advantage of these children who cannot articulate what is going on in these classrooms. This teacher will lie to a parent about a child, never saying why the child had a melt down. She was always the catalyst. So, media circus? I think not. I would be heartbroken if my SDC child was being abused in any fashion and I was unaware.
Dorie Johnson January 27, 2013 at 01:24 PM
This email exchange took place between myself and a trained aide that was in the classroom I reported: After this email she stopped communicating with me. She wrote the article was fair and sincere. I can only think that she gave up :( and had only the interest of herself at heart. yes a did! I do not know about the rest. I waited for you yesterday. Article very fair and sincere. You are brave! Hugs. dbjonly@aol.com wrote: > >I know how I saw those kids being treated was wrong. I can only hope you and the rest told what you saw and heard. Saying a prayer for you and everyone involved in this mess. I know how I saw those kids being treated was wrong. I can only hope you and the rest told what you saw and heard. Saying a prayer for you and everyone involved in this mess.

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