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Suit filed against Lee School District by youth’s parents; ‘Notice’ of second suit

By Staff | Oct 8, 2008

The Lee County School District is now facing two lawsuits from angry parents who claim that their special needs children were abused in the classroom.

Two weeks ago, Board Attorney Keith Martin announced that Cape Coral resident Terry Mattox sent a notice of claim to the district over his daughter, Jasmine. During Tuesday night’s meeting Chairman Jeanne Dozier said that a lawsuit had been filed by the parents of Caitlin Elders.

Until now an official lawsuit has not been filed by Mattox.

School board members and district officials could not comment about any pending lawsuits, but members of the Elders family discussed their issues with the school district during public comment.

They stated that the district has failed to address any potential problems relating to physical or emotional abuse.

“Every time one of the district’s failures is exposed, instead of correcting the problem, which would first require acknowledging it, you put on a horse and pony show intended to deny these problems exist,” said Kellie Elders.

A report filed by a teacher in 2006 stated that Caitlin, diagnosed with autism and bipolar disorder, had her head pushed to the floor after she began to experience a fit in the school’s timeout room.

The Elders said they had physical documentation to back up their allegation, but explained that the school district never addressed the issue. Now a similar incident has spawned a notice of claim from Mattox.

Recently, the Cape Coral Police Department were called to Gulf Elementary to investigate what happened with Jasmine, Mattox’s 5-year-old autistic daughter. Police later closed the case without filing criminal charges, and they documented that Jasmine had red marks on her chin, nose and behind both ears.

Mattox also claimed that he witnessed two teachers sitting on top of Jasmine, who was pinned to the floor. Furthermore, one of the teachers involved in the incident, Catherine Hile, previously had been accused of punching a student while working in Charlotte County.

There is no state requirement for school districts to report when a restraint occurs in a classroom.

The Lee County School District also could not provide the Cape Coral Daily Breeze with the amount of physical restraints that occurred in schools last year, or whether “prone restraints” were used or when a child could be held to the floor.

Shawn Elders said he has spent much of his time trying to get the school district to acknowledge that there is an issue with how students are restrained.

He said that board members have described his accusations as “half-truths” and “isolated incidents,” yet he pointed out Tuesday night that “now we have the case of one more child.”

The use of physical restraints in schools are important, especially in special education classrooms where they can be used to protect students who are about to hurt themselves or others. On the other hand, these restraints are only effective if teachers and staff are properly trained.

According to the Elders family, there is a “lack of training and adequate resources for staff.”