Local News

Disability rights group sues Wake school board

Posted September 16, 2008 10:44 a.m. EDT
Updated September 16, 2008 7:45 p.m. EDT

— A protection and advocacy group for people with disabilities has filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Wake County Board of Education to investigate complaints of autistic students being improperly restrained.

According to the complaint, which the Disability Rights North Carolina filed in U.S. District Court, the group received a complaint in April about a school resource officer at Carroll Middle School in Raleigh placing handcuffs on one child.

Four months later, it received a complaint from another parent that his child came home from the school with bruises resulting from physical restraints.

Upon investigation, DRNC learned of a vacant classroom, called the "WWF room," that is used to encourage students to wrestle with one another and teaching assistants to release aggression.

A third child developed migraine headaches and panic attacks from witnessing the use of handcuffs and physical restraints on other students and fear that similar restraints would be used on that student, DRNC claims.

The group wants to go into the self-contained classroom during school hours to monitor the class and talk to parents and staff..

"We have very unique authority and responsibility to follow up on any allegations of abuse or neglect that we might receive," said DRNC Executive Director Vicki Smith.

According to law, organizations such as DRNC "shall have reasonable unaccompanied access to public and private facilities … when necessary to conduct a full investigation on an incident of abuse or neglect."

"We've agreed to allow our staff to be interviewed by their attorneys," Wake County schools spokesman Michael Evans said. "We've allowed them to come in to see the school, the classroom."

According to document and e-mails obtained by WRAL News, DRNC can only have access to the classroom after school hours, and if they choose, teachers can contact the group. Student information is off limits.

"Wake County denied us meaningful access," Smith said. "Usually in a situation where people try to keep you out, you become more suspicious."

In a written statement, the school system said it has been "thoroughly investigating these matters" and has asked DRNC to share any information they might have of other incidents or concerns.

"The district is taking these concerns very seriously and will continue to make every effort to ensure the rights of disabled students are protected while also protecting the physical safety of all students and staff."