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Family alleges Frankton Elementary staff injured boy with autism

Herald Bulletin - 2/7/2019

Feb. 06--FRANKTON -- An Anderson family is threatening to pull their children out of Frankton-Lapel Community Schools following the alleged abuse of a child with autism.

Amber LeJeune-Kanzler said she has retained a lawyer and expects to file a lawsuit against the district for two incidents since Friday at Frankton Elementary School, one of which she said left her son, Dylan Kelley, with bruises. She said she also is monitoring her son's injuries and may file a police report against Principal Ronda Podzielinski and two other adults.

"When is it ever, ever called for three adults to restrain a 60-pound 8-year-old child? When is it OK for the school to leave physical marks on my son?" she said.

Children with autism sometimes exhibit behaviors that test even the most patient teachers. In early January, eastern Kentucky school teacher Trina Abrams was fired after she was caught on video dragging a 9-year-old student with autism by his wrist through Wurtland Elementary School.

Frankton-Lapel district and elementary school officials, however, insist the incident late Monday afternoon has been reviewed and was handled appropriately.

"We have reached out to the student's mother to convene a case conference so we can review his IEP and make changes that we feel need to be made to support him at school," Podzielinski said in an email released by Frankton-Lapel Superintendent Bobby Fields. "Our school team met this morning to review our school's seclusion and restraint policy and best meet the needs of all students. We do not believe that the student was subjected to inappropriate forms of discipline by teachers and staff."

Fields, who said he received an email from LeJeune-Kanzler on Monday evening, said the incident has "been blown completely out of proportion" and insists his staff handled the incident correctly. Neither staff nor Dylan have been disciplined over the incident, which started in Dylan's inclusion classroom where he received instruction with regular education students.

"He was having a little meltdown over an assignment, and it just escalated and kind of got out of hand," he said. "In my opinion, we did what was best for that kid, and we didn't harm him in any way,"

The teacher first tried to de-escalate the situation by allowing Dylan to lie on a beanbag chair in a secluded area of the classroom, Fields said. Frankton Elementary School this year implemented a brain-based framework that allows all students various options to decompress.

"That didn't work either. Then he took a clipboard and flung it," he said.

The teacher's aide assigned to Dylan removed him from the classroom, and as they walked down the hall toward the time-out room in the main office, Dylan stopped, Fields said.

"He just decides he's not going to go any farther, so he just laid down in the hallway," he said. At that point, Podzielinski happened by, and with the help of the aide and special education teacher Daniel Huston, they picked up Dylan to move him into the time-out room, both for his own safety and that of other students, Fields said.

Had this happened back in his classroom, Fields said, it would not have been as big a deal.

"There was going to be a lot of traffic in the hallway, and the kid needed to move," he said. "The student was putting himself in danger by laying out in the hallway and not moving. He could get trampled if the fire alarm went off. It's not like we restrained him, really. We just physically moved him to the office."

Though LeJeune-Kanzler has argued that autistic children often don't like to be touched, Fields said some do and some don't. But Fields said there is no ban on touching Dylan in his individual education plan.

"This student is not bothered by touch," he said. "The student responds to touching all the time. He hugs the teacher."

Fields said his teachers are properly trained to deal with oppositional and defiant students, where they are regular education or special needs students.

But LeJeune-Kanzler is not satisfied with answers from the school and district.

"That's the problem. They think what they did is OK, and it's not," she said. "We are going to expose Frankton Elementary for exactly what they are."

Autism in Indiana

According to the Indiana Department of Education and the Department of Special Education, about one in 68 children has autism spectrum disorder. This includes only students who have a special education plan in a public school, so there likely are more students who could be counted.

That compares to one in 59 nationally, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the Indiana Resource Center for Autism at Indiana University-Bloomington, ASD is considered the fourth most prevalent disability category.

Autism spectrum disorder occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is four times more prevalent among boys than among girls.


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