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DRM Investigates, Finds Abuse of Students with Autism

DRM successfully resolved the cases of nine students with autism who faced abuse and segregation in Harford County Public Schools. DRM was alerted to a situation in Harford County in 2014 involving a segregated classroom of young students with autism who had reportedly been sprayed in the face with water, threatened with a rolling pin and subjected to other abusive treatment by their teacher and classroom assistants. We spent the next several months conducting an extensive investigation that substantiated these allegations and revealed other harms. Our resulting report, authored by Managing Attorney Leslie Seid Margolis, details the abuse, educational neglect, and systemic breakdowns that occurred at every level, and makes a series of recommendations addressing accountability, student safety, relief for individual students, professional development and training, other staffing issues, communication with parents, program review, Child Protective Services and more. DRM also represented nine of the children in their individual education cases to obtain appropriate assessments, individualized education programs (IEPs), greater inclusion and compensatory services for the students. Our last individual case closed in June 2016; all nine students DRM represented are placed appropriately and doing well. We have continued to monitor Harford County Public Schools’ implementation of our report recommendations, received the final status report in July 2016 and formally closed our investigation in August. Pursuant to DRM’s investigation, Harford County contracted with a consultant to improve its autism program and provided significant professional development to its staff, including an “autism summit” each summer.  The school system has also addressed many of the systemic issues that had allowed this unfortunate situation to occur. After consulting with our clients, DRM decided to release portions of our report – (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) to ensure school system accountability. See media reports of the investigation below:

“Harford special education program under scrutiny” The Baltimore Sun

“Harford teachers union calls for wider training amind allegations of abuse of autistic students” The Baltimore Sun

“Law center finds ‘systematic breakdown’ at fault for abuse of autistic students” CBS Washington 

“Report raises concern over treatment of students with special needs” WBAL TV