On Jan. 27, Flor Nelson got a phone call from her daughter's school principal. There had been an incident, she was told. Her 9-year-old daughter, who has autism and is non-verbal, had been put in a filing cabinet by her special education teacher.
"I said 'OK,' " Nelson told AOL Jobs. "I guess I didn't understand that literally she was putting her in a filing cabinet drawer and closing it."
The principal of Juan Seguin Elementary in Richmond, Texas couldn't tell her anything else, she said. The teacher had been suspended and was under investigation -- an investigation that revealed that the filing cabinet incident was one of many alleged filing cabinet incidents, and a whole lot more, reports the Houston Chronicle.
After the teacher, 47-year-old Julie Gosch, purportedly pulled out a clump of hair from one of her student's heads, two of her teaching aides decided to email school administrators, describing months of abuse.
Gosch had allegedly called the students "losers," "stupid," "retarded" and "a bitch." She would hit and kick them, and let them eat food from the bathroom floor. She would lift their pants and underwear, exposing the students in front of the class, to see if they had "gone to the bathroom," and steal the students' snacks. She instructed the aides in how to hit the children, and would hallucinate in front of the class under the influence of prescription medication, according to a lawsuit filed by Nelson and another mother, Juana Sapon (pictured above). The teaching aides say it was Sapon's 9-year-old autistic daughter who had her hair torn out by Gosch.
The day the aides sent their emails, the Fort Bend Independent School District and its police launched an investigation, and Gosch was placed on administrative leave with pay, pending its outcome, says a memo from the school district's human resources department. Later in the evening, the principal reportedly called the parents. A report was filed with Child Protective Services, according to the Chronicle (which broke the story), and the Texas Education Agency put Gosch under review.
But Nelson and Sapon aren't satisfied. "These are two non-verbal autistic 9-year-old girls," explains their lawyer, Clint McGuire. "So they would never be able to communicate what happened."
The mothers want to ensure that Gosch, who had been employed in the school district since 1993 and taught at that particular school for almost a decade, never sets foot in a classroom again. They also want video cameras installed in special education classrooms, so that there's some kind of accountability.
No previous allegations of abuse or neglect have ever been made against Gosch, and the principal at her previous school had no recollection of inappropriate behavior. Nelson says that she's met Gosch a few times before -- her daughter had been in her class for two years -- and hadn't noticed anything strange about her. "I never thought she was capable of doing this, or that she was this type of person," she said. "I don't understand what happened."
McGuire believes that Gosch's father passed away sometime last year and she began taking prescription medication. The aides said that Gosch would occasionally take these drugs in front of the class, which would slur her speech, cause her to misremember names, hallucinate and make her seem "as if she is almost drunk."
Nelson not only heard reports that the teacher stuffed her daughter in a filing cabinet drawer several times -- which according to a school district memo Gosch admitted to officials -- but that Gosch also inappropriately kissed her daughter on the lips, and put the girl's face into her bosom after unbuttoning her own blouse. Nelson's daughter cannot speak, so would never be able to report these incidents. But she says that her daughter recently began stripping off her clothes and exposing herself at home. One of her daughter's therapists asked if she might have been sexually abused. Nelson believes that her daughter was imitating things that she saw in the classroom.
Recently several special education teachers have been accused of abusing their students. The parents of four students at Taft Elementary School in Orange, Calif., filed a lawsuit in March against a special education teacher for alleged physical abuse that included teasing, punching, and straddling and sitting on them. Earlier this month, a mother in Redwood City, Calif., handed the special education teacher of her 5-year-old son, who has autism, a $1 million lawsuit for allegedly kicking and starving him.
Nelson hopes to raise awareness of this problem, and gain support for placing video cameras in special education classrooms. Tapes planted by concerned parents have found abuse in the past. When the father of a 10-year-old boy with autism suspected that his son was being abused at Horace Mann Elementary in Cherry Hill, N.J., last February, he sent him to class with a hidden digital recorder. It's audio purportedly recorded the teacher and her aide teasing the child and calling him a "bastard."
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