Autistic child, age 6, facing felony assault charges following physical restraint
By Heather Sedlock, Special Needs Kids Examiner, February 24, 2010

Tina Obanion is a mom. Her son, Dallas is currently facing felony assault charges at the age of six stemming from an alleged bite to a paraprofessional who was attempting to physically restrain him at the time.

6-year-old Dallas

Her son, Dallas, attended the Bryan Elementary School during the previous school year. She was called nearly every day to come and pick up her son. At the time, Dallas did not have a concrete diagnosis. However, he did have an IEP. Tina’s other son also has medical issues. To have to drop everything and come running up to school on a continuing basis is quite stressful to say the least but what has occurred this year is quite terrifying for her and her family.

At the end of the previous school year, Tina was told that Dallas had to stay home while he went through testing to clarify his diagnosis and to change medication. The school felt the medication he was on at the time was not working as evidenced by their need to restrain him every day. Tina did so.

One of the reasons they restrained Dallas was because he was hungry. He was on medication that inhibited his ability to gain weight and needed to eat 2 hours before and after lunch. Tina even provided a doctor's note to that effect and the snacks. Yet, when Dallas became upset because he was hungry and being refused his snacks, they restrained him.

When the diagnosis of autism became concrete, she asked that Dallas be enrolled for the summer school program. Her request was denied, even though children with an autism diagnosis are routinely enrolled in summer school programs because evidence exists that these children will regress in educational areas. It is a case of use it or lose it.

Tina went to the superintendent, Dr. Stephens. He sided with the local school’s decision. She asked about going to the school board. In order to be heard by the school board and be put on the agenda, she had to go through Dr. Stephens. She knew the futility of that, so she let it go and did her best for Dallas over the summer.

This school year started in August of 2009 and there was much hope that things would change. It was a new school (same district), with a concrete diagnosis, and a new therapist. Before school started, Tina attended an IEP meeting. She had requested then that Dallas have a full-time paraprofessional to be with him during the school hours. She was denied her request but was told that paraprofessionals on staff could be shared.

Also at this IEP meeting, she saw in the IEP that every time Dallas had a discipline problem, it would be put into his disciplinary school record. She requested to see this record. There were only two recorded incidents. Much less than the number of times she was called for behavioral discipline issues the previous year!

On December 18th, Tina dropped Dallas off at school at 9 a.m. to attend his Christmas party. He had an appointment earlier for ear infections. She told the staff then that Dallas was not feeling up to par and to call her right away if anything came up. She called the school at 11:30 to check in and make sure he was doing okay. She was reassured that everything was fine.

At 12:11 p.m., she received a phone call from the school and told to come to the school right away to pick up Dallas. When she arrived there were cops present and she could hear Dallas screaming from inside. When she got into the room, his pants were pulled down halfway in the rear and low in the front as well. That day the physical restraint process gave Dallas carpet burns on his back.

On another day soon after that, Tina was called again. After questioning Dallas, she found out that he was put in time-out. Time out was outside the classroom door with no one with him to make sure he didn’t wonder off. The classroom was a trailer. This is common practice for schools that outgrow the building and with limited funds cannot afford to add on to the existing building.

Dallas stated he had gotten upset because he had wanted his coat and they wouldn’t give it to him. It was 43 degrees outside that day. He was taken to the ER and evaluated. The Children Protection Services agency in Clinton, Missouri was contacted to investigate this issue. The school is in Nevada, Missouri and therefore needed to be investigated by the next town over.

An investigator arrived and saw the pictures of the physical injuries to Dallas and took a statement from Tina about the incident. However, Tina was later told on Christmas Eve, that the school would be conducting its own investigation into this incident and Clinton agencies would not be involved.

Tina notified the school that she wanted to be present during any questioning of her son. Because of his autism, this process of investigation can be quite upsetting and scary to Dallas. Tina wanted to be on hand to help him stay calm. However, the school never contacted Tina about questioning her son. The school was on a holiday break during this time. The claim was found to be “unsubstantiated.” Tina asked, “What school would find itself guilty when investigating itself?”

On January 25, 2010, Tina was preparing to take her other son to a doctor’s appointment for 10 a.m. The phone rang at 9:45 a.m. and it was Dallas’ school. She was to come to the school right away to pick up Dallas.

When she arrived, Dallas was on the floor, with his arms folded underneath him, one grown adult lying on top of him with her arms around and underneath him, and another adult with her arms around his legs and lying on top of his legs. Dallas is six years old and frail because of his medication. He is underweight. The principal, Ms. Spour, and a nurse were on the other side of the room, watching.

She got Dallas out of there and he complained that his arm hurt. Tina thought it was possible that his arm was injured during the physical restraint process. When she had a moment to stop and breathe (on her way to get her other son to his doctor’s appointment), she noticed a long scratch as he pulled up his sleeve and again said “My arm hurts!” She pulled up the sleeve further and saw a long laceration along his arm and at the top of the laceration was a soft-ball sized bruise.

Dallas's bruises

She called the child abuse hotline. She was informed it would not be investigated because she did not have enough information about what transpired during the physical restraint incident and could not say for certain it was or was not abuse. The purpose of this hotline is to report suspected child abuse. However, the hotline personnel did say they would document her call.

The following day, January 26th, Dallas was absent. On the 27th, Tina attended another IEP meeting. She was presented with a piece of notebook paper with a statement on it giving permission for any staff of the school, regardless of training, could physically restrain Dallas. She refused to sign it.

When Dallas’s advocates at the IEP from other agencies suggested ways to the school staff to prevent overstimulation, such as allowing him to do one paper of work and then play for 10 minutes, Ms. Spour responded with “Sure! Why don’t we just let Dallas play ALL day!” with her hands up in the air. It was clear to Tina that the principal and other staff members were not interested in educating her son because they felt it took away the educational experience for other students. “My son has just as much of a right to an education as the other kids do.” She said during a telephone interview last night.

The message she was sent that day was that her son was “less than” the other students and the staff did not want to have to teach him because they found it too challenging to do so even though it is their job to teach him and the other students or to provide another solution.

She asked for the record of restraint that was told to her exists for all incidents. They have not yet provided this documentation to her.

The following day, January 28th, Tina was called yet again to come and get Dallas from school. When she arrived, he was playing with Legos. Seven or eight teachers and staff were on the other side of the room. Dallas and a paraprofessional were on the carpet near the Legos. Tina bent down and said to her son, “Dallas, you’ll have to clean your mess up so we can leave, but can you tell me why you’re upset?” The principal, also present, was upset and yelled at Dallas that he had to pick up his Legos “RIGHT NOW!” and yelled at Tina "Just get him and you out of here."

The paraprofessional who had been involved in the physical restraint incident on January 25th was there and said to Tina, as she was attempting to find Dallas’ jacket so they could leave, “I could have pressed charges against Dallas when he bit me.” Tina, tired of fighting, said “I don’t care.” The paraprofessional misunderstood what Tina meant and began blasting Tina for “not making Dallas accountable for his actions. I guess it’s okay he bit me!” Tina clarified for the paraprofessional that she did care if Dallas bit her and he should be held accountable for his actions. It is that she does not care if she files charges.

Since that time, Tina has had three referrals leveled against her through child protective services for incidents that took place while Dallas was in school. And now, Dallas, age six, autistic child, is facing felony charges of assault for allegedly biting the paraprofessional during the January 25th physical restraint incident.

Tina firmly believes that would not be the case had she signed the document allowing any staff, trained or untrained, to restrain her child. She cannot afford an attorney for Dallas and is getting help from a friend who has studied some law. She is in desperate need of an attorney who can help Dallas and Tina defend him against these charges.

Tina said in the interview last night, "I'm just blown away by all of this. I think I'm still in shock."

You can read messages from other parents about this school personnel and of support for this family at the Support Dallas Facebook page.

Click here to read about how YOU can help this mother today with upcoming Dallas' legal battle.

There will be an update posted on Thursday, February 25th, 2009 following the hearing for Dallas at 3:45 p.m. CST.

As promised, you can find the update by clicking here

And read more here.

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Abuse in the classroom