Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pennsylvania teacher's aide accused of abusing autistic boy

From The Citizen's Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.:

Alex Shadie didn't want to answer anymore questions.

The boy - trapped within the limiting confines of autism and mental retardation - stuck his fingers in his ears and tucked his feet beneath his legs, sequestering himself from the rest of his 12th-grade special education class.

An aide objected to Shadie's sudden disinterest in the question-and-answer exercise and, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week against her and the Hazleton Area School District, started to bully him.

The aide, the lawsuit said, grabbed Shadie's arm, shook him and asked, "Alex wake up, what's wrong with you?"

The aide - identified in the lawsuit as Gloria Forte, of New Ringgold, Schuylkill County - allegedly struck Shadie in the forehead with the palm of her hand, shoved him into his chair and knocked his feet out from underneath him.

Forte, 61, followed the Jan. 2, 2008 question-and-answer episode with a pair of abusive outbursts on March 4 and 7, 2008, the lawsuit said.

In the March 4 encounter, Forte allegedly used unapproved "aversive techniques" to get Shadie's attention after he finished an assignment and rested his head on his desk.

In the March 7 encounter, Forte assailed Shadie after he performed a task of putting crayons into various boxes, the lawsuit said.

After Shadie filled about four boxes with crayons, he put his fingers in his ears, crossed his legs underneath him and stared at the table, the lawsuit said.

Forte grabbed Shadie by the arm, according to the lawsuit, shook him, told him to "wake up," and asked, "what's wrong with you?"

Shadie stood up. Forte, the lawsuit said, whacked him across the forehead with the palm of her hand and shoved him back into his seat.

The lawsuit, filed last Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Scranton, said district officials were aware of Forte's abuse, but allowed her to remain employed and active in the classroom. Forte resigned from the district in June 2009.

The school district solicitor, Christopher Slusser, did not return a telephone message Monday evening. Forte could not be reached.

Forte's abuse, which led to a criminal conviction for physical harassment in September 2008, caused Shadie to regress in his development and manifested in emotional distress, the lawsuit said.

Forte's conduct and the district's complicity, the lawsuit said, were violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Shadie, and his attorney, James J. Conaboy, are demanding unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from Forte and the district, plus court costs.

Shadie continues to endure physical, emotional and psychological pain, the lawsuit said, including post-traumatic stress disorder and developmental delays.