BOSTON, August 2, 2018 – The Disability Law Center (DLC) issues a Report today announcing the results of its abuse and neglect investigation at Tri-County Schools (TCS) in Easthampton, Massachusetts. DLC substantiated abuse and neglect at TCS. The school is closing for approximately a year in order to reassess and reopen the school’s operation with a focus on a trauma-informed care model.
TCS is a private, day special education school in Easthampton, Massachusetts run by a non-profit, Northeast Center for Youth & Families (NCYF) and approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. TCS has the capacity to serve up to 115 special education students, who primarily struggle with social, emotional and behavioral manifestations of their disabilities.
During the early spring of 2018, DLC received complaints regarding the treatment of students with disabilities at TCS. As part of its investigation, DLC reviewed three student records, viewed restraint video and interviewed 19 parents. DLC also reviewed records from local police, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF), conducted a site visit and interviewed TCS administrators.
DLC’s investigation found TCS staff engaged in abuse by repeatedly using excessive force in restraints and engaging in improper time-out and disciplinary practices. For example:
- One 14-year-old student, whose record DLC reviewed, was restrained seven times in a seven week period. He was injured in four of the seven restraints (accidentally kneed on the left side of his face by a staff member on one occasion and a variety of cuts and abrasions on his side, arms and face during the other restraints).
- A parent reported her 8-year-old son’s finger was broken during a behavioral incident in June 2018. She, like several parents we interviewed, noted that he was restrained almost daily and “came home with bruises on his arms and back almost every day due to holds.”
- A parent of an 11-year-old student reported that his son was restrained daily as well and often came up with scrapes down his side, lower back and with bruising in the shape of finger prints.
DLC also found TSC neglected students with disabilities by failing to provide a safe environment by not maintaining adequate numbers of trained staff, which resulted in the over-criminalization of disability-related behavior and the failure to properly implement effective social/emotional services and supports. For example:
- TCS staff called the police alleging a student-on-student fight. When police arrived, they discovered no student fight, but only three students who had attempted to repeatedly escape improperly administered restraints. All three of the students were charged with “Disturbing School Assembly.”
- A DCF investigation into four missing students revealed that the students’ unlicensed teacher was a substitute from a temp agency and her Instructional Assistant (IA) was new and on a probationary period. The IA could not explain the protocol for different student safety statuses (one student who led the escape was supposed to be in arms-length of staff at all times). The teacher could also not explain how the student left the room without staff. During the month-long investigation period, the teacher was terminated, the IA quit and the Director of Operations resigned from her role.
“The pattern and practice of forcibly restraining and containing — and then arresting — students for disability-related behavior at a special education school is extremely troubling.” says Marlene Sallo, DLC’s Executive Director. “This treatment causes both physical harm and long-term psychological trauma.”
DLC supports TCS’ decision to close, reassess its operation and re-open with a trauma-informed care focus. In support of that effort, DLC seeks a remedial plan from TCS in advance to address these findings.
DLC, as the designated Protection and Advocacy System for Massachusetts, is authorized under federal law to investigate incidents of abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities. The investigation was conducted and the report was written by Colleen Shea, Attorney/Skadden Fellow and Stanley J. Eichner, Litigation Director.
Contact: Executive Director Marlene Sallo (617)-723-8455 x145; firstname.lastname@example.org