A student with cerebral palsy who endured years of alleged abuse at the hands of educators may finally see some justice. Rosa Smith attended High Point School, a school for students with special needs in Ann Arbor, MI. It’s there, her attorneys say, that Rosa was abused and neglected by the very people charged with her care. The family has filed a lawsuit against Washtenaw Intermediate School District, and the principal, educators, and two teacher’s aides at Rosa’s school. In one horrifying incident, a teacher taped Rosa’s mouth shut because she wouldn’t be quiet.
Rosa is now 27, and has cerebral palsy. Her condition has left her wheelchair-bound and totally reliant on others for her care. She is also nonverbal. That means she was unable to communicate to her family about the abuses.
The federal lawsuit filed by her family details the disgusting treatment Rosa endured, and alleges that it went on for over a decade. On more than one occasion, Rosa came home with injuries such as third-degree burns, scabs, and bruises. The school blamed the injuries on Rosa, saying they were self-inflicted. Jonathan Marko, an attorney representing the family says, “They blamed Rosa for scalding hot coffee being poured on her. They blamed Rosa for coming home with bruises on her. They even blamed Rosa for being too loud, and that’s why they had to gag and bound her.”
The incident involving the tape is particularly disturbing. The family says a teacher taped Rosa’s mouth shut because she wouldn’t be quiet. Rosa breathes almost entirely through her mouth. A teacher texted Doreen Smith, Rosa’s mom, with a picture of her daughter’s mouth taped shut. The text read, “Help. She won’t be quiet!!!”
The abuse began in 2004, and continued for more than 10 years. In one instance, a bus driver witnessed a school employee slap Rosa. The lawsuit names one of Rosa’s teachers, Nesa Johnson, as well as the principal at the time, Anne Nakon. They say that they reported the abuse several times, and nothing was done. The school told the family that they conducted their own investigation and took action. But in a statement, the school goes right to victim-blaming Rosa and the family.
“As to the subject of this lawsuit, the family did not report this, or any other complaint to the district until nearly a year after it occurred. We take the health, safety, and education of all of our students very seriously.”
The family is asking for damages and attorneys fees in their lawsuit. Doreen withdrew her daughter from the school earlier this year, after learning of the slapping incident witnessed by the bus driver. According to Marko, the family didn’t pull her out sooner because they didn’t realize the extent of the abuse.
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