LEXINGTON, Ky. — Jo Grayson said she was alarmed when her son, Thatcher, came home from his middle school covered in cuts and bruises.
Earlier in the day, Thatcher’s teacher texted Grayson to alert her to an incident involving him.
But it did nothing to prepare Grayson for what she saw hours later when Thatcher came home and she discovered the marks on his body.
After she obtained surveillance video that explained the marks, she became appalled.
The footage shows Thatcher, who has autism and is mostly nonverbal, being dragged down a school hallway by his teacher and the school nurse.
“I just don’t understand how someone can do this to a child, let alone to a person with disabilities,” Grayson said. “I want the school district to take action and not just install cameras in every room of each school, but also train their staff accordingly so they know how to handle children with disabilities, or rough situations with children like Thatcher.”
Thatcher is a sixth-grader at Tates Creek Middle School in Lexington, Kentucky. Because of his condition, he’s not able to tell his parents when something is wrong.
But the photos Grayson posted to her Facebook page speak volumes.
Grayson initially didn’t make much out of the incident when she received the teacher’s text in mid-September.
“The nurse and I had to physically help him get up off the gym floor,” the text read. “He wouldn’t move and other kids were trying to play. I apologize if he has marks on him.”
Grayson says she thought the behavior sounded a little strange for Thatcher, but replied by thanking the teacher for informing her of the incident.
The situation changed that evening.
“We were getting ready for bed, and when I pulled his shirt off, I saw cuts and bruises on his body. That didn’t look like marks of someone helping him get up,” Grayson said.
Concerned, Grayson went to the school the next class day to get clear answers on what had happened. She was able to request surveillance video of the incident through an open request filed by her lawyer.
“I saw both his teacher and the school nurse just pulling and dragging my son, along with his service dog, all throughout the hallway,” Grayson said.
Grayson confirmed that she filed a report with the county district attorney. However, at this time, the report is under the review of the DA and no warrants have been issued.
According to Fayette County Public Schools, the teacher involved in the incident is no longer employed at the school as of Oct. 2.
“Incidents of this nature — in which an employee is acting outside of the district’s expectations and out of line with the training provided — are isolated,” district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said in a statement.
“Our training is very explicit that physical restraint is a last resort only to be used when a student is a danger to themselves or others. The training also shows employees the proper ways to hold or transport students.
“In this case, neither of those standards were met.
“There is absolutely no tolerance for the conduct of the employee in this incident, and while we cannot discuss specifics, we do want to reassure our families that we take any situations of this nature very seriously.”
When asked what the district would expect of an employee if a child who is nonverbal refused to move, the school district said, “It is difficult to generalize the district’s expectations for responding to a situation like this because every child with special needs has an individual plan outlining the best evidence-based strategies to support their success. However, we can say that some recommended strategies would include use of wait time, visuals, a student’s individual communication system, and system of least prompts.”
As for the nurse, the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department said she has been placed on paid administrative leave “pending investigation.”
“We continue to work with Fayette County Public Schools to investigate the matter. We cannot comment further at this time,” Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement.
Thatcher returned to school once his mother learned the teacher is no longer employed there, and she said she hopes the incident encourages other parents to speak up for their children.