Amy Jackson said her seventh-grade daughter is sometimes too frightened to attend Milton Middle School.
Her daughter is now on medication and is receiving outside counseling to deal with stress.
Jackson believes the Milton School District isn’t doing enough to protect her child from being physically attacked and emotionally intimidated by a special-needs student at the school.
Jackson’s sister Vicki Dillenbeck reached out to The Gazette after an April 9 story on Milton’s special education program.
That story mentioned a Facebook post that criticized the school district for how it handled a behavioral incident. Milton officials invited The Gazette to spend time at West Elementary and the high school to see what a typical day of special education was like.
Dillenbeck wrote the original Facebook post March 14. She said she had grown frustrated with the school district’s inaction after her niece was bitten Feb. 12 by a special-needs student.
She and Jackson requested the girl not be named because of the sensitive nature of her story.
The girl told a Gazette reporter the special-needs student has repeatedly pulled her hair and forcibly removed her glasses from her face since the beginning of the school year. She estimated such incidents have taken place at least 10 times.
Any time the student approaches her, she thinks, “What do I do?”
Other girls who wear glasses have also been targeted, she said.
In February, the student entered her classroom and bit her on the head, she said.
That was the first time the district notified Jackson about the ongoing behavior. Jackson said the lack of prior communication angered her.
The school also never notified her about a January video in which her daughter read a script, offering to be nice to the student if he stopped misbehaving. Jackson understood the intent, but it backfired—the biting incident happened a few weeks later, she said.
She and Dillenbeck have since met multiple times with different school officials to learn more about the situation and how it could be fixed.
Student Services Director Susan Probst said special-needs students are accompanied by an aide at all times. But the aide can only be “hands-on” if the students are being dangerous to themselves or others, she said.
Milton’s seclusion and restraint policy complies with state guidelines. The Department of Public Instruction says such methods can be used only if a student’s behavior “presents a clear, present and imminent risk to the physical safety of the student or others, and it is the least-restrictive intervention feasible.”
Probst said all Milton teachers are trained annually on seclusion and restraint. Part of that training involves learning when a situation crosses the line and becomes dangerous.
She did not know the specifics of how a teacher would make that distinction because she does not lead those training sessions, she said.
The state’s hands-on policy frustrates Dillenbeck. She said Milton officials have told her they can’t physically restrain the special-needs student unless he begins doing something inappropriate.
“We understand he’s special needs, but it’s frustrating to think his safety is more concerning, it seems like, to them than (my niece’s) or any other student in that school,” Dillenbeck said. “I guarantee if she was the one doing this crap, she wouldn’t be there.
“Special needs or not, and we understand everyone is different when it comes to special needs, but if they’re harming somebody, they’re harming somebody.”
Milton officials have suggested her niece take off her glasses when walking the halls or arrive late to class to avoid seeing the student. Such methods feel like a punishment, she said.
Dillenbeck said the district recently offered to keep the special-needs student inside his classroom while others walk to their next classes. That strategy might help, but it’s too early to tell, she said.
Probst could not confirm or comment on any of Milton’s strategies to resolve this specific situation.
“In any situation where there are people who are uncomfortable on either side, you try to find solutions where both sides can contribute to the solution,” Probst said.
She could not comment on the family’s criticism of that effort and could only speak in general terms about miscommunication.
“For parents to feel safe enough to send their kids to school, communication is important. But in any situation, there are often times where parents will call the school where they want to know info about another student, that can’t be provided,” Probst said. “Imagine how another parent would feel that a consequence their child had received had been shared with other people. We try to share as much as we possibly can.”
She defended the district’s ability to handle kids with significant special needs and said all students deserve to feel safe.
Dillenbeck and Jackson met with Probst earlier this week for the first time. Dillenbeck credited Probst and said her response was “heartfelt.”
Now, they just want results.
“It’s a matter of them realizing that all of them kids in the school matter, is what it comes down to,” Dillenbeck said. “Every child deserves to go. She’s not physically attacking anybody, so she shouldn’t be the one scared to go to school.”