Local News

Parents Claim Autistic Kids Being Neglected In Wake Schools

Posted November 22, 2004

— In September, an eight-year veteran autism teacher in the Wake County school system resigned after Raleigh police filed criminal charges of child abuse against her. Now, some parents of autistic children say the case and how it was handled is an example of how the kids are being neglected within the school system.

Waverly Cochran, 7, is autistic and does not go to school. Her parents pulled her out of Wakefield Elementary after she injured herself in the classroom. Cochran's teacher, Melinda Whitley, was charged with misdemeanor child abuse in connection with the incident.

"There was plenty of evidence that the school system knew something was amiss in that classroom, plenty of evidence and nothing, not one thing, was done," said Libby Cochran, Waverly's mother.

Now, parents whose children had the same teacher at several Wake County schools are banding together. They believe the school system is sweeping this issue and others under the rug.

"You don't sleep at night," said Kevin Regan, parent of an autistic child.

"One of the most disturbing themes here is that they appear to have a culture of secrecy. I don't see how potential criminal behavior can be confidential. The public needs to know about this," said James Harvey, parent of an autistic child.

Nancy Sakowski said her autistic son learned very little in Whitley's classroom.

"The window of opportunity is for learning is gone for him. Those years between 4 and 8 is gone. You can't get it back," she said.

There are 742 children in the Wake County school system with autism. It is a program that has been raised nationwide. School officials declined to speak to WRAL about the particular incident.

The parents want autism teachers to get better training. They would also like to see third party monitoring in the classroom. Most of all, families like the Cochrans want a safe learning environment for their children.

WRAL also talked to some parents who are very pleased with their teachers and the program for autistic students in Wake County. They say even though they are content, they are concerned that the particular situation involving Whitley was not handled properly. Whitley could not be reached for comment.

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