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Norwalk moms allege child abuse at High Road School

Regina Russell speaks Tuesday on her behalf of her daughter, right, also named Regina Russell, about techniques used by High Roads School in Norwalk.

Regina Russell speaks Tuesday on her behalf of her daughter, right, also named Regina Russell, about techniques used by High Road School in Norwalk.

3:30 a.m., May 21, Correction: High Road School, not High Roads. 

NORWALK, Conn. — The treatment at High Road School is not therapeutic, it’s abuse, a Norwalk grandmother told the Board of Education on Tuesday.

Regina Russell was one of three women to publicly allege abuse at High Road School, a private special education facility located on North Avenue in Norwalk; Nancy Michel also told a story about a child being forced to urinate on themself while being kept in an overly long timeout – one of two complaints of that nature.

Barbara Prefit kept it short. Her 10-year-old daughter is in a timeout every day at High Road, she said.

“She is getting so aggressive from what she goes through at school it’s just unbearable. Something needs to be done,” Prefit said.

“I think you need to close that school immediately because this is horrible. This is happening to minority children. I am very concerned,” said Brenda Penn-Williams, who guided the women to the BoE meeting.

Penn-Williams sent an email to Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and BoE members on Monday, alleging child abuse.

Norwalk Public Schools staff began an investigation Tuesday morning, Adamowski said.

The women said they had filed a complaint with Norwalk Police on Monday, and an investigation is underway.

An email sent by NancyOnNorwalk to High Road at about 4 p.m. Tuesday drew no response.

The commentary during the meeting’s public speaking session began with Penn-Williams reading her Monday email.

“Within the last 72 hours, I have received three disturbing complaints about High Road School, which allege child abuse,” Penn-Williams said. “I have been told that children are coming home with bruises and scratches from the restraining process, in which the school has implemented. These parents feel as though they have been disrespected, intimidated, isolated, and manipulated during their tenure at High Road. Who is minding the shop from Norwalk Public Schools?”

Russell said her 11-year-old grandson had bruises and was forced to urinate on himself due to a lengthy timeout.

“It’s been a very great concern of mine, the complaints that he comes to me with as far as his restraints,” Russell said. “I questioned his mother. It’s always, they make it seem like it’s my grandson’s fault. He is in a school where it’s supposed to be therapeutic, it’s not.”

Russell, speaking for her daughter, continued, “He doesn’t want to go outside where he lives. He doesn’t even come to my house anymore because he doesn’t want to go outside. He is coming home with bruises on his body, that no one has called to say, ‘This happened at him at school.’ The crying.”

She has gone to the school to take her grandson clean clothing, and been told that he stripped naked, she said.

“We have the right to our dignity. The last episode where he got abused and he came home with bruises… he said, ‘Nana, I got kicked in head.’… Yes, there’s issues, but how can he get better if he is in a school that is making him worse? Yes, he needs to be somewhere. Yes, he does, but not in a school where he is being abused. He is coming home with marks. He is crying to me,” Russell said.

“We tend to think that children with mental health issues need to be restrained and at all times, that they are agitated or aggressive,” said Michel, the mother of an 8-year-old who has been attending High Road for a year. “Sometimes the children are not aggressive, sometimes they are pushed to be aggressive. My daughter was placed in a room for four hours per day, time out – 10 minutes with four people on her. She is about 56 pounds with clothes on. On Friday she came home with scratches on her face, underneath her arm. Every day she is complaining that when she inhales she can’t breathe, it hurts, because they pin her down on the floor, put their knee in between her back.  They cuff her like she’s a prisoner.”

Answering the complaints during the meeting, Adamowski said there is a Department of Children and Families (DCF) investigation ongoing, that he could not comment any further publicly than to say the BoE is investigating High Road.

Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons encouraged the parents to contact Adamowski directly, not go through Penn-Williams.

“We don’t have control over the school,” Lyons said. “If it turns out the service they are getting from the school is inadequate we can pull them back.”

Norwalk Board of Education member Mike Barbis listens Tuesday as complaints are made about High Roads School.

Norwalk Board of Education member Mike Barbis listens Tuesday as complaints are made about High Road School.

The group left; in the hallway, other mothers in attendance at the meeting expressed sympathy.

Asked why the complaints were coming forward now, the younger Regina Russel said she had been trying to contact Penn-Williams for a month.

She showed a photo of her child’s arm, with scratches and light bruises.

Michel showed a video of her daughter saying she didn’t want to go to school.

Penn-Williams said she’d go to the state.

“This is a little kid, then they take the kid out of the house because she is making complaints, they call DCF,” Penn-Williams said.

The DCF complaint is bullying, she said.

“That’s what they do to single black women,” she said.

Jose Louis also had been sign up to speak during the meeting but did not appear. Penn-Williams said he also has a child at High Road, and speculated that the lack of parking spaces at City Hall – attributed to a Norwalk Community College nursing program graduation and to the opening of a city-wide art show – had kept him away.

The High Road’s moms said there should be cameras in the school to record what is happening with the children.

That would be against the law, Adamowski said after the meeting. Also, privacy laws prevent the Board from discussing the situation with Penn-Williams, he said.

“We first heard about this last night,” Lyons said. “… None of the parents have reported this to anybody at Norwalk Public Schools, which is why I said to them, ‘You’ve got to make sure that you contact us,’ because we can’t share student privacy information with Brenda Penn-Williams. She is not related to any of the students. So the parents have got to contact us, but I believe our staff has already talked to some of them.”

Again, High Road is a private school that the BoE has no control over, he said.

“But my understanding, from the legal counsel, is that since we placed the students there on PPTs (Planning and Placement Team), we can certainly reopen the PPT and reconsider the placement if we think the school is not treating them properly. We can pull them out of the school and put them somewhere else. So we are initiating that process.”

“No complaints except from Miss Penn-Williams,” Adamowski said. “Last night and today, our staff contacted the school. Some of this I can share with the Board in executive session, but there is also a DCF investigation going on, that we really have to wait for the results of it.”

14 comments

Jerri Drazkiewicz formerly known as Norwalk Lifer May 18, 2016 at 8:13 am

Thank You Brenda Penn Williams for advocating for these women, it’s important for the board to know that when an individual is trusted, they tend to get approached by the community

Bob May 18, 2016 at 9:39 am

LOL. I’m sure these kind-hearted, wholesome children weren’t attacking staff or other children. Why do you think they go into these holds with the children? These kids are at this type of school for a reason, people.

These fine upstanding citizens are just looking for a handout. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Also, don’t believe everything your mentally ill child tells you.

Maryann Lombardi May 18, 2016 at 10:12 am

There are resources for children being abused at school, The Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities in Hartford is one, The Office of the Child Advocate in Hartford is another. DCF can also be used to complain about an institution which is abusing children, very effective when the complaint is lodged by the Police Department. I would encourage parents, take photos of your children’s injury, go to the emergency room or your doctor to create a medical report, and do not hesitate to call the police. This is assault and these poor kids will suffer post traumatic stress disorder on top of whatever else they are already dealing with. My heart goes out to them.

Mary Papadakos May 18, 2016 at 10:43 am

I was so taken aback when I read this article. My child also attends High Roads. This is the second year and we will be going into the third. While I cannot speak to the alleged allegations made here, I will tell you that my child unequivocally has never experienced the situations set forth in this article. Ion fact, he knows of no one who has gone through this. High Roads has been the best choice for my son. He is striving. All the staff is engaged and always available to meet or speak on the phone. And their notification is always prompt. I hope this matter is cleared up soon.

Maryann Lombardi May 18, 2016 at 11:13 am

The Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities in Hartford
The Office of the Child Advocate in Hartford
Norwalk Police and Parents can report the school to DCF for child abuse
The State Department of Education – Bureau of Special Education as they are a state approved program and should be investigated
The Office of the Inspector General US Department of Education in Boston, investigates use of special education federal grant money – here is a list of where to start having investigators all over them

Dawn May 18, 2016 at 12:50 pm

Having worked with the Special Needs Population for over 20 years, I can understand challenging behaviors. But if staff are not trained properly in the proper behavior management techniques, nothing but disaster can occur. I hope that all staff at this school are trained in Personal Outcome Measures (POMs) and understand they are providing a human service. Every service they provide must be based on the needs of the individual receiving services, not their convenience. If they cannot manage they are in the wrong field.

EveT May 18, 2016 at 1:44 pm

What position does PennWilliams occupy that makes her a spokesperson for these parents? Does she work for the school system or something? Also, if this is a private school then why is Norwalk Public Schhols involved?

Mike Lyons May 19, 2016 at 12:14 am

Eve, Ms. Penn-Williams has no official role here. Several parents contacted her about the alleged problems at High Point, and she contacted me and Dr. Adamowski. That triggered our investigation. As I explained to the parents Tuesday night, however, since Ms. Penn-Williams has no familial relationship with the children, under FERPA we cannot share any information about them with her. I thus urged the parents to contact Dr. Adamowski’s office directly so we can gather more information.

NPS is involved with High Roads, even though it is a private school, because we have a number of special education children who have been outplaced to High Roads via the PPT process. Although we have no control over High Roads, we could reconvene the childrens’ PPTs and change their IEPs (Individual Education Plans) to reassign them to another school, if we determined that High Roads had acted improperly in regard to them.

Regarding the question “when is High Roads going to NHS?”, our plan for next year (as part of our rebuilding of our special education program if the City approves our special appropriation request) is to bring two classes of children now at High Roads back to NHS (see http://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/SPED-Dev-Fund-2016-17-thru-2018-19-rv-2-MTC.pdf, p. 2, item 3). For the first year, High Roads’ staff would work together with NPS special education teachers to teach this group of children; in the second year, High Roads’ staff would depart and NPS staff would take over full responsibility. The children outsourced to High Roads are “ED” (emotionally disturbed); children are designated at five levels of concern in the program, and we would take children from the top two categories (children who are emotionally compromised but with no history of violent behavior toward others or themselves). Children in the other levels would not be brought back to NHS, since even our revamped program would not be equipped to deal with their more significant needs.

Note that the special ed plan also includes (p.2, item 11) adding a capacity to actively monitor outplacements – something Norwalk has never done. We feel adding that capacity would give us ‘early warning’ of any problems that develop with outplacements, while simultaneously improving communication with parents and help return students, when appropriate, from outplacements to NPS.

Jerri Drazkiewicz formerly known as Norwalk Lifer May 21, 2016 at 7:15 am

From your comments, Mr. Lyons

The children outsourced to High Roads are “ED” (emotionally disturbed); children are designated at five levels of concern in the program, and we would take children from the top two categories (children who are emotionally compromised but with no history of violent behavior toward others or themselves).

Outsourced, usually refers to a product or service previously done in house, (see cottage manufacturing), outsourcing is the act where such a product or service is rendered unto a second party for completion.

Children are not products sir.

Mike Lyons May 22, 2016 at 8:16 am

I’ve contributed thousands of hours of volunteer time over the last 4 1/2 years to improving the education of our children, Jerri – I know they aren’t ‘products’. I’ve consistently used the term “outplaced” dozens of times (including several times in this thread); congratulations on finding the one time I used the incorrect term “outsourced” in an early a.m. posting. I guess that can go down as your contribution.

Jerri Drazkiewicz formerly known as Norwalk Lifer May 23, 2016 at 7:38 am

With all due respect, Mr.Lyons, I too, have contributed thousands of hours to helping kids, from my own home. Instead of admitting you are wrong in your assessment, and calling it an isolated incident, I would argue you find umbrage in my remarks to hide your own. Listen to the parents for a change, and make a change if necessary.

Jerri Drazkiewicz formerly known as Norwalk Lifer May 23, 2016 at 7:41 am

So the excuse is it was early? then you should wait until you are awake to get your point across, I, too, have spent countless hours, very willingly, to help kids from my own home, to save them from streets that are unkind. So we are even in that regard.

I point out simply your words are not commensurate with the kind of attitude that would foster trust; if you continually hide behind excuses, and do not address the issues that these parents raised, then you are negligent in your own perceived duties. They are the true benefactors of these children; not the BOE.

Mike Lyons May 23, 2016 at 10:25 am

Jerri, what the heck are you talking about? What “assessment” did I make that was wrong? Who says we aren’t addressing the issues? We started our own investigation the moment we heard there were problems, and the police and State are also investigating. You discovered a typo in an email, and from that you derive these posts?

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