Mother seeks answers about alleged improper behavior by staffer with her autistic son at Rockland school

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff
Posted Dec. 12, 2013, at 6:07 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Rockland police have investigated and passed on to the county prosecutor a report that a male staff member at a local elementary school was found with his pants partially down in a bathroom with a young autistic student. Despite denying the alleged encounter, the employee immediately resigned from the school.

The results of that investigation, which have not been made public, have been forwarded to the Knox County District Attorney’s office to determine whether any charges are warranted, according to Rockland Detective Sgt. Chris Young. The BDN is not naming the staffer since he has not been charged with a crime.

“The alleged perpetrator denied that he was in the bathroom alone with [the boy] and with his pants partially down,” RSU 13 Superintendent Lew Collins wrote in a Dec. 3 letter to an attorney at the Augusta-based Disability Rights Center.

The letter says the district investigated the allegations in the case and reported this information to state Child Protective Services “as required by mandated reporters.” The information then was forwarded to the Department of Education.

The superintendent expanded on that comment Tuesday in an email response to the BDN.

“The safety, welfare, and emotional well-being of our students is our highest priority. This case was referred to [the Maine Department of Health and Human Services] by Principal [Lynsey] Ward as required by law. There is no indication that any of our students were harmed or at-risk,” Collins stated.

But the mother of the student involved in the alleged Oct. 1 incident at South School said she has been frustrated by the lack of answers she has received from all parties and in particular with the fact that her son, who still attends the school, has not been interviewed by anyone involved in the investigation.

The 5-year-old autistic boy’s mother, who is not being identified by the BDN to protect the identity of the child, said that on Oct. 3 her son hid under his bed when getting ready for school, something he had not previously done.

She said she had to contact an attorney through the Augusta-based Disability Rights Center to try to get answers about why a staff member was in that situation with her son and why her son has not been interviewed.

According to a Nov. 22 letter sent to a handful of local and state officials from Atlee Reilly, an attorney with the center, the school’s principal called the boy’s mother on Oct. 1 to report an “incident.” The principal reported “that a district staff member reported a male staff member (who was responsible for assisting [the boy] in the restroom) had his pants at least partially down while in the restroom with [the boy],” the letter said.

The mother, who provided copies of both letters to the BDN, said that she was contacted by the principal on the day of the incident and that she talked the following day with school officials. After that, however, she said she received no additional information after being told that the former employee had legal rights to privacy. She said that is when she contacted Reilly. He sent his Nov. 22 letter seeking information on the case to Superintendent Collins; Rockland Police Chief Bruce Boucher; Arthur Keenan, a legal consultant at the state Department of Education; and Angie Bellefleur, associate director of police and prevention at the state Office of Child and Family Services.

Detective Sgt. Young said Tuesday that Detective Russell Thompson went to the boy’s classroom, observed him and determined that the boy could not communicate well enough to be interviewed by police about whether any improper behavior occurred. Young said the case was referred to the prosecutor because the district attorney’s office may have suggestions about a different way to communicate with the child.

A telephone message left Wednesday morning with District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau was not immediately returned.

Superintendent Collins similarly stated in his Dec. 3 letter to Reilly that RSU staff did not interview the child because “he is essentially nonverbal and cannot be questioned about the event.”

The disability rights attorney questioned whether the district, police or state agencies had a policy on investigating a complaint in which the possible victim has disabilities such as the boy has.

The mother said her concern is that some attempt should be made to interview her son regardless of his autism and she also questioned whether the district or police have interviewed other students who were in contact with the employee who resigned.

According to Reilly, the mother “would very much like to believe that absolutely nothing untoward happened to her son in the bathroom.” But he added that she remained troubled by the fact that she had “not received any answers or any closure.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/12/12/news/midcoast/mother-seeks-answers-about-alleged-improper-behavior-by-staffer-with-her-autistic-son-at-rockland-school/ printed on October 25, 2014