Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pittsburgh mother sues school district after she says a teacher slapped her son with autism


PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- The mother of an 11-year-old boy with autism -- who's seen being apparently slapped by a teacher in a YouTube video -- has filed a lawsuit against the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The cell phone video that got Lori Davis fired from her job as an autistic support teacher at the Conroy school in Manchester shows her hitting a student named J.R. on the side of the head, Team 4 reported.

According to the lawsuit, after hitting J.R., the teacher then verbally assaulted him, telling him, "Stop moving your chair back. Move it! And you stay back there! I've had it with you!"

The lawsuit says teacher's aide Andre Burrell personally witnessed the teacher physically and verbally assaulting J.R. on one or more occasions prior to March 14, 2008, the date of the incident caught on video.

In one incident from 2006, J.R. was physically assaulted by a bus aide, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also says the school district did not do a good enough job screening Davis' background before hiring her.

School district spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said the teacher was fired in June 2008, three months after the video was taken.

In a statement, Pugh said, "We take an incident like this very seriously, which is why she was removed and is gone."

Earlier this year, the state revoked Davis' teaching certificate based upon that incident.

Neither Davis nor her attorney returned calls seeking comment from Team 4 on Monday.

Rebecca Klaw, a local expert in teaching children with autism, said the video is clearly an exception to the rule, because the vast majority of special ed teachers are very good at what they do.

Still, Klaw said the video is disturbing, calling it "a nightmare come true. This is really going to make people pause as they put their kids on the bus tomorrow. They're going to wonder, 'What happens if the aide can't take a picture? What happens if nobody sticks up for my kid?'"