Protecting Children With Intellectual Disabilities From Battery And Other Abuse

In May 2018, an elementary school teacher working in the Anchorage school district was put on paid administrative leave following an incident during which she was accused of pushing a then, eight-year-old boy "back into a doorway when she intervened in a student dispute over art supplies." The boy has autism.

According to the superintendent, the accused teacher did not return the following school year and resigned.

Online court records indicate that criminal battery charges against the teacher were dismissed by the prosecution. However, the boy's family has filed a civil suit against the school district. Scott Gross "Ptarmigan teacher accused of pushing student resigns" (Dec. 14, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

The crime of battery involves applying force against another person’s body without that person’s consent. Battery may result in offensive touching or actual physical injury. Generally, a victim does not have to be injured or harmed for a battery to have occurred, so long as there is offensive contact involved.

In most cases, battery results in misdemeanor criminal charges, which usually results in a punishment of fines and/or jail time of less than one year. Battery can become a felony charge when bodily harm is more significant on the victim.

In this case, however, the victim was a child with autism. This means the teacher could have been prosecuted for another crime, intentional assault and battery on a person with an intellectual disability. In some states, this offense is punishable by imprisonment for several years.

It is not clear in the source article why the teacher might have pushed the student involved in an altercation. School districts must provide training sufficient to make sure teachers are proficient with various responses to possible behaviors involving students with disabilities.

What else should schools do to make sure that students with autism and other intellectual disabilities are protected from harm while on campus?

  • Learn about intellectual disabilities and the various ways they can manifest in students. Learn to recognize behaviors as a function of the disorder rather than as intentional or disrespectful conduct.
  • Engage the parents in a partnership, working together toward the child's success. Establish communication methods early, and continue a regular exchange of information on classroom challenges and possible solutions.
  • Promote positive interactions between students with intellectual disabilities and their classmates.
  • Collaborate with other education professionals on an IEP or 504 learning plans that include short-term objectives and annual goals for the student with an intellectual disability. Regularly review the plan, and adjust it when needed.
  • Develop a plan to manage behavioral challenges that can be common in children with intellectual disabilities. The key to success is using a consistent approach with positive behavioral reinforcement techniques.
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