NORWALK, Conn. — A Norwalk child got a scratch on his arm got after trying to elbow the staff at High Road School, according to the school’s staff members. Another child, whose grandmother recently complained that her grandchild had gotten a burn on their arm while attending High Road School, told school staff members that the burn came from her father’s cigarette.
A report compiled for the Norwalk Board of Education about alleged abuse of students at the school for students with special needs came to a different conclusion than the one pushed by parents and one grandparent in a recent complaint to the Board.
“It is not believed that the High Road School staff abused or intentionally caused any harm to any of its students based on this investigation,” interim Special Education Department Director Joseph Russo wrote in the report.
In response, BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said Monday that he is satisfied that the school is doing a good job, although two parents and one grandmother came to the BoE on May 17 to say otherwise.
Attempts on Monday to reach Brenda Penn-Williams, who shepherded the unhappy family members to the Board meeting, were unsuccessful.
The report was done after interviewing three students and their guardians, High Road Director Janet Andrews, teacher Daniel Barrett, and conducting telephone interviews with 10 other High Road parents. Russo said he communicated with Norwalk Police on its concurrent investigation and also arrived unannounced to observe classrooms on three occasions.
Parents and the grandmother attending the May 17 meeting said their children were subject to extensive timeouts in the school, causing them to urinate on themselves. There were also reports that the children had been bruised while in restraints.
The children are now getting homebound instruction and will be placed in other schools in the fall, the report states.
High Road School followed the policy and procedures set forth by the State Department of Education for restraints and seclusion of the students, Russo concluded in his report.
“Ms. Andrews noted that restraint and seclusion is only used as an emergency intervention if there is an imminent risk of injury to the student themselves, other students, or staff. In all cases of Restraint and Seclusion, the High Road School has a Medical Technician examine the student for bruises and related injuries and document them on a form used by staff,” Russo wrote.
One of the children told Russo that a teacher pushed him into the wall, resulting in a black eye.
School staff told Russo the child had hit himself in the eye while in a time out, and no bruising or pain was reported at the time. He got a scratch on his arm while trying to jump out of the window, staff told Russo.
While the parent of another student complained of the child being kicked in the head, this was not observed by staff, Russo wrote.
The child with the burned arm has a long history at High Road, is aggressive and kicks while in a timeout, staff said, according to the report. The child said the burn came while he or she was reaching for something and hit the father’s cigarette, Russo wrote. The child is physically and verbally very aggressive, kicking, punching and spitting, Russo was told, according to the report.
Russo asked the children what happens if they break the rules.
“Happened to me three times,” a student responded, according to Russo. “I passed out once last year and two times this year. No one woke me up all day. Teachers go overboard when restrained, sometimes thrown on the floor. Teachers have also laughed at me when I was restrained and told jokes. I missed lunch sometimes because of being in timeout, or cannot use the bathroom and wet myself.”
“They prompt you if you talk and sometimes given a timeout,” another student reported to Russo. “If you are in the timeout room and try to go AWOL, they put you in a hold. If you’re unsafe in the timeout room they close the door. I had a timeout today because I was cursing on the bus. After this timeout I had to process and then go back to class.”
The 10 parents of other children were asked to rate the school from 1 to 10.
“The mean was 8.3,” Russo wrote. “This was with one parent rating the school a ‘5’ because their child was just hospitalized and she felt the school was more for children with behavioral versus mostly emotional issues.”
“A key finding for me was the very positive reports on the school from the 10 other parents who were interviewed,” Lyons said.
Although the investigation was done in-house, Lyons said he was confident it was objective.
“I’m not aware of any pushback from the parents; since they’re all getting their wish to have their kids relocated to another program, I expect they’re satisfied,” Lyons said.
“The High Road School in Norwalk is a State approved private special education school with approximately 47 students, 21 who come from the Norwalk Public Schools, and all placed via the PPT (Planning and Placement Team) process. The school provides an education for students with a variety of social, emotional, and behavioral challenges,” Russo wrote. “… The school appears to be more successful with students experiencing behavioral issues; the model followed by the school maybe less successful dealing with social-emotional disorders.”