Alleged special education student abuse at Dunbar Middle suggests restraints weren’t recorded | Education

In July, a former Dunbar Middle School aide said in a deposition that he had restrained a child who has autism “almost every single day.”

West Virginia Board of Education policy requires public schools to promptly send written notifications to parents and place these documents in the child’s record each time “restraint,” defined as “reasonable force,” is used. These documents must include details such as who did the restraining, how long it lasted and the alternatives to force that were attempted.

Lawyers representing the parents say the school system has provided no documents showing these written notifications were created, given to the parents or placed in the child’s file.

“We have no written record of how you were restraining him on a daily basis?” said Charleston-based attorney Andy Paternostro, representing the Aman family.

“Correct,” replied Nathaniel Lanz, the former Dunbar Middle aide who now works at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary.

School officials and their lawyers did not comment on whether the state school board policy was violated.

In their lawsuit against the school system, the parents claim Lanz and another aide, Vanessa Dorsey, abused their child and used excessive force while restraining him. The child is identified in court records by the initials T.A.

Asked under deposition if he had attempted to verbally notify the parents about the restraints, Lanz answered that he wasn’t permitted to “by the principal’s orders.” Asked why he didn’t document restraints, Lanz said he was “told by the principal that he would have taken care of it.”

Gilliam did not respond to interview requests for this story. Paternostro didn’t ask the administrator during a March 2021 deposition if he had barred Lanz from communicating with the parents.

Their child is nonverbal. State law requiring cameras in special education classrooms had not taken effect. The absence of written notifications further obscures what happened to the boy.

The family’s lawsuit is among others against Kanawha that claim abuse of special education students, but those cases include video evidence.

State school board policy says restraints may be used to prevent a student “from hurting himself/herself or any other person or property,” but “comprehensive documentation and immediate notification” are required.

Concerns about Lanz were raised in depositions and Child Protective Services reports quoted in that pretrial testimony.

Lanz punched the boy in the face twice, according to William Courts, an autism mentor fired from his job. A parent said Lanz put the child in a headlock or chokehold. Lanz denied those claims.

A visitor to the school said Lanz threw the boy onto mats. Lanz said he didn’t recall doing that.

CPS investigators concluded that no child abuse occurred. Mainly because Gilliam sat in on the interview, Courts said he didn’t tell an agency investigator about what he saw Lanz do.

Courts took a photo that shows Dorsey sitting over a child, holding his hands, pinning him to the floor. During depositions, Paternostro and school employees discussed whether she sat or squatted over the boy’s back.

State school board policy says restraints shall not “restrict breathing (e.g. prone restraint); place pressure or weight on the chest, lungs, sternum, diaphragm, back, neck, or throat; or cause physical harm.”

Dorsey, who now works at Edgewood Elementary, didn’t respond to requests for comment. During her deposition, she denied sitting on the child but admitted the restraint was improper.

Before his firing, Courts asked the boy’s father to testify on Courts’ behalf, the father said. Courts was accused of breaching the confidentiality of a CPS investigation and urinating on a bathroom floor. During his 2019 termination hearing, Courts revealed the photo, which the father had not seen, the father said.

The family sued the following year.

During his deposition, Courts said he showed the photo to Gilliam the same day he took it. Courts said the principal asked for the photo to be deleted.

Asked about the photo, Gilliam said, “She was not sitting on him. She was squatting over him.” The boy’s hands “would be pink if she was leaning on him,” Gilliam said.

During his deposition, Gilliam was not asked if he requested that Courts delete the photo. Gilliam’s deposition preceded the testimony of Courts and Lanz.

The principal said the only injuries he’d ever observed on the child “were ones that were caused of his own affliction. On accident, no doubt, to himself.”

School system spokeswoman Briana Warner wrote in an email that, “while we cannot comment on active litigation, we can say that we train employees on the appropriate use of restraints, both how to restrain and when it is or is not appropriate. If an improper restraint is used or a restraint is used in an inappropriate way, that is addressed through an investigation, which can lead to retraining and/or disciplinary action, depending on the circumstances and severity.”

The school district’s Charleston-based lawyers, Lou Ann Cyrus and Caleb David, claim to have a “substantiated allegation of neglect against the Aman family.”

During the 2018-19 school year, the lawyers wrote in a filing, “CPS intervened at the Aman household due to multiple instances of alleged neglect. CPS found that T.A. had exceptional needs that his caregivers could not or would not meet, which resulted in T.A. eloping from home unsupervised and roaming the neighborhood.”

“A jury could determine that T.A.’s and the Amans’ damages, if any, were caused by or contributed to by T.A.’s home life,” the lawyers wrote, adding that “the only claim of abuse or neglect substantiated in this case by CPS was the claim against the Amans.”

The family’s attorneys, Paternostro and Andrew Stonestreet, said there had been at least three investigations of the boy eloping from home.

“In each instance, his father quickly located him playing with yard toys or playing in gravel and sand,” the family’s lawyers wrote. “The resulting investigations concerned whether there was a lack of supervision at the time.”

The family’s lawyers have asked the judge to block jurors from seeing this evidence.

State officials denied requests for CPS’ unredacted investigative records.

School lawyers and deposed employees say the boy injured employees.

Courts said an aide required stitches after being bitten “through” the chin by the child on the first day of school. Lanz said he was “in over his head” with the boy and tried to leave the position. Gilliam said he initially blocked Lanz from doing that. Other aides wouldn’t agree to work in the classroom, Gilliam said.

At one point, Gilliam wrote to former Kanawha schools Superintendent Ron Duerring, expressing “concerns about the state of liability” at the school “due to issues revolving [around] a challenging and dangerous student.” Gilliam also wrote about a”lack of sufficient staffing.”

In his deposition, Gilliam said, “the amount of injuries were overwhelming.”

Lanz said he restrained the child because he was putting himself and others at risk. Lanz said the restraints made the boy angry and led to violence.

Walt Aman, the boy’s father, said he saw changes in his son.

“It got to the point where, like, if you would walk past him or you put your hand on him he would jump, and it was almost like he would have to defend himself,” Aman said, “and he would be gone for a second, and then you would be like, ‘Hey hey hey,’ and then you would see him almost, like, come back into focus.”

Aman said “the school system told me his behaviors were getting worse, too. But they didn’t tell me about the abuse.”

The case is set for trial in the fall.