Monday, October 10, 2011

In Virginia, legislation likely to address training for aides to autistic students

From The Richmond Times-Dispatch. In the picture, a video still of alleged mistreatment of a severely autistic 11-year-old boy that led to a school lawsuit.

A Henrico County delegate said Oct. 6 that he will introduce legislation requiring specific training for aides in public school divisions who are responsible for the care of autistic students, including personnel on school buses.

Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, said a similar bill last year failed after committee approval largely because of the uncertain monetary impact.

But Massie and longtime advocate for autistic children John H. Maloney of Autism Speaks said Thursday that a graphic video of the treatment of an autistic Bedford County student aboard a school bus is producing an outcry for more training.

"If the bill had passed, there would be less chance that the sort of conduct exhibited in the video would happen. But what it shows is inexcusable," Maloney said Thursday.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Thursday on a $20 million injury and negligence suit filed in Lynchburg Circuit Court this week against the Bedford County School Board and the driver and a special needs aide responsible for the care of Timothy Earl Kilpatrick on his school bus.

A surveillance video aboard a bus carrying Kilpatrick to a special needs regional school in Lynchburg shows the driver and aide repeatedly hitting and kicking Kilpatrick, who is isolated in his seat by tightened harnesses on each shoulder.

The two women — driver Alice Davis Holland and aide Mary Alice Evans — were charged with felony child abuse but convicted in November 2009 of misdemeanor assault in Lynchburg Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court as a result of the incidents in September 2009, according to court records. Both women left the school system September 30, 2009, according to a school system spokesman.

It was not clear what training the two women were provided by Bedford County; a school spokesman did not return a call Thursday asking for comment.

Current state regulations, according to the state Department of Education, require that all drivers of special needs children receive eight additional hours of "behind the wheel" training in addition to the 48 hours of classroom and behind-the-wheel training all drivers undergo.

Training is also required for drivers transporting "students with special needs." The extent to which that training deals with handling behavior issues was not immediately clear Thursday. "Until I have the curriculum in front of me, I can't say," said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Kilpatrick, now 14, is barely able to speak and weighed nearly 190 pounds when he was 11, his father said in an interview this week. The videos, obtained by Lynchburg police, show an aide holding a fly swatter at the ready and repeatedly striking Kilpatrick, increasing the blows as Kilpatrick tries to defend himself or strike out. He is also manually struck and kicked.

"That video shows the fear of every parent in Virginia about what happens to their autistic child when they leave home and are in school. It shows everyone's worst nightmare," Maloney said.

Massie's bill last year would have required 80 hours of training for teacher aides responsible for handling children with autism spectrum disorder, specifically in behavior-management techniques. The training would have to be completed within a specific time frame.

Massie said Thursday that he wants to make sure the proposed legislation would apply to personnel handling autistic students on school buses.

Progress reports obtained by lawyers representing Thomas E. Kilpatrick and his son show that the father had concerns about injuries to his son aboard the bus as early as November 2008. But videotapes in that time frame were not made available to the father.

"Thomas reports that he was threatened by the bus driver that she was going to hit Timothy if (Timothy) hit her again," a note prepared by Timothy Kilpatrick's case worker reads in November that year. The driver was not identified.