While every child faces fears and experiences anxiety that they must overcome as they mature, children on the autism spectrum and others with special needs can find the world on a daily basis to be a confusing, threatening, and chaotic place. This heightens the fears and anxieties special needs children perceive and requires a nurturing, compassionate response from those entrusted with their care.Schools with special needs students must train their staff specifically on the issues and challenges special needs students face, and supervise staff to ensure they are interacting with students in an appropriate and professional manner.
It is hard to ignore the issue of whether school safety actually exists, especially when shocking and unbelievable news coverage bombards parents daily. The question often becomes, “where and when is a school district responsible if harm is caused to a child?”
California law imposes on schools a duty to supervise at all times the conduct of students while on the school grounds and to enforce those rules and regulations necessary for the student’s protection. (Cal. Gov. Code 815.2(a)). In other words, employees of a school district have an obligation to supervise students for their protection.
The Court held in C.A. v. William S. Hart Union High School, (2012) 53 Cal.4th 861, 869, that, due to the mandatory nature of school attendance and the “comprehensive control” exercise by the school over the students, there is a duty to use reasonable measures to protect students from foreseeable injury. Additionally, those in supervisory positions owe a duty to take reasonable measures to guard students against harassment and abuse from foreseeable sources, including teachers in their supervision (Id. at 871, and also see Cal.Code Regs. tit. 5 § 551). This simply means that when you hand over your child to a teacher or administrator, they have a duty to keep your child safe from harm. This uniform standard to which they are held is that degree of care ‘which a person of ordinary prudence, charged with (comparable) duties, would exercise under the same circumstances.’ (Citations) Either a total lack of supervision (citation) or ineffective supervision (citation) may constitute a lack of ordinary care on the part of those responsible for student supervision. (Dailey v. Los Angeles Unified Sch. Dist., 2 Cal. 3d 741, 747, 470 P.2d 360, 363 (1970).
Unfortunately, many students, especially those with special needs, become victims of teachers who are not properly trained or supervised. These children can be beaten, humiliated, have food and water withheld, and, in the worst case, be sexually assaulted. As a parent, you may want to contact your local police department if you notice any of the following signs in your children: (1) unexplained injuries, (2) changes in behavior, (3) regression, (4) fear of school, (5) changes in eating or sleeping, and/or (6) changes in performance or attendance in school. The police department will inform Child Protective Services, and jointly these two organizations will investigate the matter. The school district should also do an internal investigation. Finally, you may consider consulting with a reputable attorney that has handled these matters.
One frustration for parents confronting this nightmare is union regulations. Such regulations merely place teachers on leave, and usually allow them to go back to their position unless convicted. Many of the cases that this firm has handled reach settlement with the teacher and the school district denying any guilt, but in the same breadth, paying sums of money to compensate for future psychological care, and to attempt to remedy the destruction caused by lack of safety at schools.
One San Jose mother recently experienced a parent’s worst nightmare: Her disabled son told her that he was being molested by a school employee and no one would believe him. The mother pulled her son from the school, but her accusations were ignored by both school administrators and the police until she contacted until she contacted attorneys Christopher Dolan and Heather Sweeney of the Dolan Law Firm.
Chris Dolan, owner of The Dolan Law Firm, and Ms. Sweeney are helping the mother take legal action against Achieve Kids, a school for developmentally disabled students. The mother says that her autistic son was molested by a 33-year-old teacher’s aide at the school named Waking Bailey.