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School board learns parent may file suit against district; Restraint of autistic child reported

By Staff | Sep 25, 2008

The Lee County School Board received an intent to file a lawsuit Tuesday night from a Cape Coral father who allegedly witnessed his 5-year-old autistic daughter being improperly restrained by teachers at Gulf Elementary School.

The Cape Coral Police Department investigated and closed the case without filing any charges.

It could take up to six months or longer for an official lawsuit to be filed against the school district, explained board attorney Keith Martin, who also advised the five members of the school board to not discuss the case.

It is unclear if the lawsuit will follow in coming weeks, but the CCPD filed no charges.

“There were no criminal charges,” said Connie Barron, city spokesperson. “We closed the case based on our investigation and we didn’t file any charges.”

Erin Gillespie, spokesperson for the Department of Children and Families, said the agency is investigating the incident. The DCF investigation could last as long as 60 days.

“As far as we go, in a situation with a teacher, we don’t have any criminal findings,” said Gillespie.

DCF officials could convince the CCPD or the State Attorney’s Office to file charges if the investigation uncovers any signs that “verify findings of abuse.”

“As long as the child is safe, that is what we are a looking at,” said Gillespie.

According to a police report from the Aug. 20 incident, officers responded to a student having “an episode” at Gulf Elementary.

They tried to speak to the child, who had visible marks on her chin, nose and behind both ears. The teachers explained to the officers that the girl had a difficult time communicating as a result of being diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

One of the teachers, Catherine Hile, explained to officers that the girl began to scream, scratch, kick and throw her head against the wall. In trying to subdue the girl, Hile was assisted by the school’s behavioral specialist, Jill Waruszewski.

According to the police report, Hile and Waruszewski are trained in a restraining program called CPI.

Both teachers also told officers that they had used a minimum amount of required force to restrain the child. Waruszewski also had visible red marks on her skin, including a round bite mark on her left arm.

According to the police report, the victim’s father, Terry Mattox, told police that he had contacted DCF and will contact an attorney. Private accounts of the incident describe the teachers sitting on the child’s head to subdue her before police arrived.

Earlier this year it was reported that Hile, a finalist for the Golden Apple Teacher’s Recognition Award, was disqualified from the competition because of an alleged incident of punching a special needs student in Charlotte County.