JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — First Coast News has uncovered a report of a local student with autism who was held down for nearly an hour until he became violently ill at school.
The report sent home to the family of 16-year-old Jacob Anderson details the incident that took place two weeks ago at Terry Parker High School. Anderson's mother, Catherine Doll, believes the school went too far.
"It says right here in the report, they held him down 'until the student started to choke on his vomit,'" Doll said.
Anderson is in the Duval County Public School District’s PRIDE Program at Terry Parker High School. The program is designed for students who have Emotional or Behavioral Disabilities.
If it sounds familiar, you may recall our report from Monday when DCPS announced an investigation into the PRIDE Program at First Coast High School. This report came after two paraprofessionals were accused of improper restraint or physical contact with a student in the program.
According to DCPS, a paraprofessional is typically meant to help maintain discipline or assist students in special education classes.
In the instance with Doll’s son at Terry Parker High School, six people restrained him for 50 minutes, three of whom were paraprofessionals, according to the report.
The report goes on to say that while restrained Anderson “vomited several times," "he also turned red" and "claimed he was put in a chokehold" and "his hoodie was torn”.
The report says a student stole Anderson’s phone at lunch, prompting him to chase after the student. A fight ensued, and that’s what led to the 50-minute restraint and struggle with staff members.
"They kept on pushing my head down," Anderson said.
The report lists other disciplinary options offered to him during the situation, such as "praised/encouraged" and "verbally prompted/redirected", but Anderson says that never happened.
According to the report, two staff members ended up with busted lips and another employee said "he couldn't feel his right arm".
The report says the restraint seized three times, during which Anderson started to choke on his vomit. The school says he started to swing at them once they let him up.
Anderson was placed in handcuffs by a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office deputy and was left with marks around his wrists and neck.
Doll says her son has Autism Spectrum Disorder; a fact the report from the school corroborates.
His mom feels like that is overlooked and believes he’s not in an environment that nurtures his disability.
"I’m upset because he’s not supported by staff that understands his primary functionality," she said. "Autism is a communication disorder, at the very base of what it is. I’m appalled, disgusted, furious."
Anderson’s twin sister Grace says her brother has been suspended too many times to count and she feels that kind of discipline only makes things worse for him.
"It should never be happening in a PRIDE Program where they know something is wrong with the kid, especially since he has Autism, to know that he has a disability and know how hard it is for him," Grace said.
Anderson’s Aunt Mary Jane Young is a former paraprofessional with DCPS.
"I’m very passionate about this because I want every child to feel safe," Young said.
She believes the PRIDE Program is not equipped to handle kids with Autism, unlike other programs in DCPS that are more specifically designed for students on the spectrum.
"They’re lovable, they’re sweet, they’re gentle, but when they’re being attacked they don’t know what to do," she said.
DCPS spokesperson Dr. Tracy Pierce says they can’t comment on the incident, but they do say if a parent is unhappy with their child’s placement, there is a due process procedure they can follow or they can contact the district.
"If the parent seeks to advocate for a change in services or placement, those procedures are spelled out in detail in this document: Procedural Safeguards for Parents of Students with Disabilities. The parent has avenues up to state and federal review, and those processes and due process rights are well defined in this document," Pierce said.
Catherine Doll says she’s been trying to do that but to no avail.
She says the bottom line is that she wants her son in a classroom that is more tailored to his needs.
District Officials tell First Coast News, “The district always places a student in the least restrictive environment to provide the required services and supports to meet the individual needs of the student.”
They go on to say, “Our teachers in the PRIDE Academy have the required certification to teach students with various exceptionalities including autism.”
After First Coast News inquired about the case for several days, DCPS told First Coast News on Thursday evening that the matter has now been referred to the Department of Children and Families where they may conduct their own investigation. It has also been referred to the Professional Standards Office.
The district says, "As always, we will cooperate fully with DCF and any other investigative agencies".
As for the qualifications for staff members in the PRIDE Academy, DCPS says they are required to have an ESE Certification and the appropriate content area (math, English, science etc.,).
In response to our questions about the staff members in the program, DCPS sent us the following statements:
In Duval County Public Schools, you will find students with autism in just about every possible setting. Some students with autism are in general education school environments (traditional classrooms) with appropriate support. Some students with autism are in special programs within schools called communication and social skills classrooms. We have students with autism in our exceptional student centers, and we also have students with autism in our PRIDE Academy.
Our PRIDE Academy provides a therapeutic environment for any eligible student with a disability needing a more intensive level of support. PRIDE Academy support includes on-site mental health services, small classes, and extensive behavior management.
Our teachers in the PRIDE Academy have the required certification to teach students with various exceptionalities including autism.
Training on instructional and behavioral best practices for students with autism is provided by district autism specialists, Center of Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) and Florida Diagnostic Learning Resource System (FDLRS).
Training for staff of our PRIDE Academy includes Professional Crisis Management (PCM) Training/Certification. The training includes crisis prevention, de-escalating strategies, crisis response and post-crisis support. This training also includes appropriate procedures for restraining a student exhibiting highly aggressive behaviors that could cause harm to the student, the staff or other students at the school. PCM is specifically designed for students with disabilities.
PCM is just one of the trainings provided to PRIDE Academy personnel. Other examples include positive behavior management strategies, de-escalation techniques, trauma informed care, Youth Mental Health First Aid, differentiated instruction etc.) CARD provides specific trainings for personnel who work with students with autism and related disabilities. FDLRS provides many different instructional and behavioral trainings for ESE personnel, administrators and general education teachers.