Educator allegedly taped student’s mouth shut
A special needs student might finally be treated fairly after enduring years of alleged abuse. Rosa Smith has cerebral palsy and was allegedly punished for it by educators at her specials needs school in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“Help. She won’t be quiet!!!!” a High Point School teacher wrote in a text message she sent to Rosa’s mom, Doreen Smith, in March 2016. The text also contained a terrifying photo of Rosa with her mouth covered in various pieces of tape, the Washington Post reported. You can tell by Rosa’s eyes that she’s very scared, which makes sense since she breathes almost entirely through her mouth. Cerebral palsy is a congenital disorder that affects a person’s movement, posture, muscle tone, or all three. For Rosa, who is now 27, her cerebral palsy has made her wheelchair-bound and entirely reliant on others for all activities. She’s also nonverbal, which meant she couldn’t easily communicate to her family how much abuse she endured at school.
In addition to having her mouth taped shut, Rosa was allegedly locked in a school bathroom for hours. On various occasions, Rosa came home with burns, bloodied scabs, and bruises, which the school blamed on her despite Rosa’s inability to physically harm herself. “They blamed Rosa for scalding hot coffee being poured on her. They blamed Rosa for coming home with bruises on her. They even blamed Rosa for being too loud, and that’s why they had to gag and bound her,” explained Smith’s attorney, Jonathan Marko. The family filed a 25-page lawsuit against Washtenaw Intermediate School District, and educators from the school including one of Rosa’s teachers, Nesa Johnson; the school’s principal at the time, Anne Nakon; and two teacher’s aides.
The alleged abuse started in 2004, occurred for more than a decade, and involved at least one instance where a bus driver witnessed a school employee slap Rosa. According to the lawsuit, the Smith family made a “plethora of complaints” to school officials. “The school assured them that they were taking care of it, that they [the parents] were overreacting, that whatever was happening, whatever they saw or thought was going on, that it was the student’s fault,” Marko shared. The majority of the alleged abuse – like the taping of Rosa’s mouth – occurred last year. Rosa has to wear diapers due to her limited mobility and was allegedly left in soiled ones for hours on at least one occasion.
After telling Rosa’s mother that they were handling the alleged abuse, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District is now victim-blaming her in its official statement to the media. “As to the subject of this lawsuit, the family did not report this, or any other complaint to the district until nearly a year after it occurred. During that subsequent year, the student continued attending school, in the same classroom, with the same teacher,” the district said. Smith didn’t take Rosa out of the school until earlier this year because she didn’t know how much abuse and neglect her daughter had allegedly experienced at the hands of the people who were supposed to help her.
“We can make sure that no one else is being abused, and we can stop the abuse from taking place. Had they fulfilled their legal duty 10 years ago, it could have prevented a lot of the torture that Rosa underwent,” Marko said.