Mom says her autistic child was physically abused by teacher

LACEY -- A Lacey mom claims her autistic daughter was physically abused by her teacher. Now she's wondering if other children with special needs might be in danger.

Jennifer Olin says her daughter came home with red marks on her arm.

Jennifer Olin keeps a close eye on her daughter when she plays. RileyAnne has autism, and she needs a little more attention than most 10-year-olds.

Olin thought she was getting that at a summer program at Lydia Hawk Elementary School for children with special needs. But last week, RileyAnne’s teacher called to tell her what happened when her daughter started acting out.

“Basically she had taken my daughter underneath her arms and gently pulled her back,” says Olin.

At least that’s how the teacher explained it. But there were rug burns on RileyAnne’s back and red marks on her arm when she came home from school. Her mom immediately took her to the doctor.

“It is abuse, it is completely abuse,” she says. “If I was to leave a mark like that on my child, no doubt CPS would be at my door in five minutes.”

But Olin says the marks are only part of the problem. She says the school never contacted her to find what medication RileyAnne needed to keep her emotions in check.

And the teacher didn’t know that Olin had specifically requested that her daughter not be put in an isolation room unless she was called first.

Isolation rooms have been the source of controversy in the past. We spoke to the director of the Washington Autism Alliance about the issue last November.

“When I hear about these types of situations, I think there has to be more training and more resources for that school district,” Azru Forough said at the time.

Olin says that’s what she believes. She thinks the North Thurston School District needs to look at how they handle children with special needs. She is glad the teacher in this incident is being kept away from her daughter while an investigation is under way, but she says that’s not enough.

“It’s a Band-Aid on the problem, fix the problem. It’s a broken system,” she says. “I don’t want an apology, I want change. I want my child and all the other children, no matter the school or disability, to be able to go to school and feel comfortable. And as a parent, I don’t want to question or worry whether or not they’re going to come home with marks.”

A spokeswoman for the North Thurston School District said she could not comment on the details of this case, because it is a personnel issue. But she said the district is cooperating with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department in their investigation. She also said the district is reviewing its protocols in relation to special education programs and students.