HOLYOKE – Mayor Alex Morse welcomes the investigation in the charges of student abuse at the Peck School that Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced this week.
“At the end of the day what we want to come out of this is the truth,” Morse told Reminder Publications.
James Leydon, the Public and Media Information Director for Gulluni, said the DA was unaware, like other officials, about the abuse charges until recent media reports. He has authorized the State Police assigned to his office to undertake an investigation.
Morse said city officials and staff would cooperate fully with the investigation.
The report from the Disability Law Center (DLC) disclosed the results of an investigation made in May. The investigation was spurred by information the organization received in April.
The report detailed that children in the Therapeutic Intervention Program (TIP) had been the subject of the following actions: children being thrown to the floor for refusing to move; children being pulled out of chairs for refusing to get up; staff using a level of force beyond what is needed to resolve the situation; staff tackling students to the ground and using prone restraint; students being restrained resulting in injury for refusing to change into a uniform; interventionists restraining children without utilizing any de-escalation techniques; staff using prone restraint resulting in injury when it wasn’t needed; students being threatened with suspension for refusing to delete photographs taken during improper restraints; interventionists stating that they conducted around 30 restraints this year and that they restrained for behavioral issues including defiance and throwing things; an authoritative attitude towards children: “you do what I tell you or else; ” and a student losing a tooth during a prone restraint.
The investigators were also concluded, “that it is hard to change the habit and pattern of improper restraint.”
During the interviews with students and guardians, the investigators “received over 20 egregious examples of improper restraint in violation of Federal and State laws.”
These included: “students being thrown to the floor and slapped; staff restraining students for refusing to leave their classrooms; students feeling as if they cannot breathe during prone restraint; multiple restraints resulting in scratches and bruises for not following the rules; yanking on students arms to move them with such force that it leaves bruises and scratches; staff sitting on students on the floor so that they can’t see; staff grabbing students with so much force that it leaves marks for refusing to get up; an interventionist slamming a student into the wall resulting in injury; staff restraining a student for throwing food resulting in an injury to his head; a student being thrown to the ground resulting in scratches and bruises for not following directions; a child being punched during a restraint; children being hit against the wall; and children being pushed on the floor face down.”
When news of the report was released Morse said, “I am outraged by these allegations. This type of behavior is completely unacceptable. Our schools should be a safe place. No parent should have to fear that their child could be hurt in such a way; no student should be treated in the way described in this report.”
Morse’s statement continued. “After reading the report this afternoon, my team and I consulted with [Holyoke schools Receiver[ Dr. [Stephen] Zrike. I have been made aware that since these allegations first came to light, there has been a major overhaul in the way the TIP program is administered at Peck School. This includes removing the former principal at Peck, hiring a new principal, as well as hiring a new operator, the Center School, who has a proven track record providing a supportive educational experience for students with disabilities, and who have already made great improvements. These incidents took place before Dr. Zrike came to Holyoke. Since he started in July, he has conducted a top down review of our programing for students with disabilities and has incorporated many new safeguards into the district, and the TIP program. I trust that he and his team are qualified to prevent something like this from happening again. I will personally be monitoring their progress and pledge to work with Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and DLC to ensure that none of our students are subjected to the deplorable conditions outlined in today's report.”
Zrike also released a statement about his reaction the report. Zrike wrote, “I wanted to take a moment to update our families and the Holyoke community on our response to the (DLC) Report that was issued on Wednesday, Dec. 9.
“I remain deeply concerned about the allegations shared in the report. Parents send their children to our schools to be educated in a safe and caring learning environment. In light of the concerns raised in the report concerning how the program operated during the 2014-15 school year, I’d like to update you on the steps we have taken to improve the safety and support of our students at Peck School.
“As part of our turnaround efforts, at the start of this school year we made multiple staffing changes in the program, replaced the school leadership, secured two outside partners to guide our efforts, worked hard to create a more inclusive environment and developed procedures for conducting restraints, effectively handling crises and communicating with parents about restraints. While we continue to assess our progress, I can assure families that the TIP at Peck School has made significant improvements that have positively impacted the student experience.
“However, as a result of the DLC report and information that families brought to us following the release of the report, we are conducting a thorough internal investigation about last school year’s events. The report surfaces many systemic concerns about program design, staff oversight/training, adequacy of resources and leadership. In launching this investigation, we have taken the following immediate steps:
• Reached out to all families with students in the TIP Peck Program during the 2014-15 school year and current school year. We have invited them to a meeting this week to discuss their questions and concerns and share information about the current state of the program.
• Collaborated with officials from the Office of the Child Advocate and the Department of Mental Health who visited Peck today.
• Placed the former Peck principal, and the district’s special education director, on leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
• Asked for a quality review of the TIP programs at Lawrence School and Dean Technical Vocational High School.
• Requested that our district special education review partner (Education Development Center) focus the initial portion of their three-year review on the district’s TIP program
• Pledged our commitment to DLC to work closely with them to achieve our common goal of providing all students in the program with a safe and supportive environment that meets all standards.
“I appreciate the many staff and families who have reached out to provide information and cooperated with the early stages of the investigation. As I have shared since my arrival, we will take all the necessary steps to ensure that our students’ interests come first in the Holyoke Public Schools.”