A Montgomery County family is suing the public school system after they say their nonverbal, autistic son was assaulted by classmates 11 times, causing serious injuries and mental health problems.
The boy was not identified in court documents or by his attorney during an interview with Bethesda Beat on Wednesday morning. However, court documents say he was a student at Rock Terrace School in Rockville, where he was enrolled in a special education program for students with severe disabilities.
The boy was placed in a “self-contained classroom,” according to court documents, with other students receiving special education services. Each student in the class was supervised and assisted by a one-on-one aide, according to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
On at least 11 occasions between May 2017 and April 2018, the student was allegedly attacked by a fellow student or students, court documents say.
“The child was entitled to protection and being safe in school. That’s where the school completely, utterly failed in this case,” attorney David Ledyard, who is representing the family, said in an interview.
Three MCPS spokespeople did not respond to an email seeking comment on Wednesday, including questions about how the student was injured.
Photos included in the lawsuit show that in one incident, the student was bitten on the chest and the wound became infected. In another, he was hit “all over his body,” causing significant bruising and several cuts on his chest. The photos also show a large bruise on the student’s forearm and a deep purple bruise on his ankle and foot.
At least one of the alleged assaults caused the student to be hospitalized “and act out in an uncontrolled manner at school and home,” according to the lawsuit. He had several medical and therapy appointments and eventually was transferred to a different school.
The student lost weight and his nightmares became severe and frequent enough that he was “under the care of psychological and psychiatric professionals.”
Ledyard, of Ledyard Law LLC in Baltimore, said that for two years, the family has been trying to get MCPS to hand over documentation — required by law — about each incident, but have been unsuccessful. So, they do not know exactly what happened in each case, Ledyard said.
The lawsuit says the boy’s parents filed several bullying reports with the school after several alleged assaults, in an attempt to spur intervention, but the school did not adequately respond.
The complaint accuses MCPS of battery, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, three counts of negligence and various violations of state law. The family is seeking a jury trial and monetary damages “in excess of $75,000.”
It says the school district did not perform adequate background checks to verify aides’ experience and qualifications to work with students and did not provide adequate training to employees.
But Ledyard said the lawsuit isn’t about the family. Instead, they are hoping to expose shortcomings of the special education program and “implement awareness and change within MCPS, so parents of special education students will feel safe.”
“As a parent, you put this enormous, exceptional amount of trust in the school district when your child has a severe disability, because you don’t know what’s happening (in the schools) and your child can’t tell you,” Ledyard said. “This isn’t just about this student. It’s about making sure the system works for everyone and protects them, so that parents can trust the system.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com