By Elena Croy
Marking a one-year anniversary can be reason for a huge celebration or the first time you really pause to reflect on the life you led a year ago compared with the one you lead today.
A year has passed since our baby girl was abused in her public school classroom. We talk a lot about the acute physical incident, although we’ve been learning over time that there was emotional abuse and neglect inflicted on our daughter and a few of her classmates over a period of months, the details of which our district will not fully disclose. This has left our family and others to piece together our non-verbal children’s stories so that they can heal and we can look toward a brighter future.
I will share our plan to forge ahead—a feat so large that we couldn’t possibly go it alone—at a later date, but for now, just the facts…
On December 7, 2020, my then four-year-old’s special education preschool teacher wrapped my daughter’s ankles in packing tape to secure her shoes to her legs. On December 14, we formally reported her to the school. Before I tell you what transpired that week, let’s rewind to what led up to the taping.
My daughter, Hope, has Down syndrome and has attended our town’s lauded public preschool since January 2019. When she started at age 3, she was placed in what was at the time the onlyABA classroom in the building. Although this didn’t feel right to me and I’d heard a lot about 1:1 aides, or paraprofessionals, the room was bright and cheery, the teacher was an absolute sweetheart, and our team explained to me that a room with a lower student-to-teacher ratio was less restrictive than a more inclusive classroom with a 1:1 aide. (I would come to learn two years later that our child study team (CST) recommended the more inclusive classroom with a 1:1, was denied likely for budget considerations, and that the ABA classroom was actually more restrictive.)
Following months of pandemic remote school, our district reopened in September 2020 with 5 day/week in-person learning for nearly 800 students with IEPs while the general education students opened with an alternating-day hybrid model. And to my extreme relief, Hope transitioned out of the ABA classroom to a more appropriate learning environment, albeit still a self-contained class, with a teacher we had casually come to know and admire. Hope’s last year of preschool was going to be amazing, even amid the pandemic. I knew we’d moved to this town for a reason.
But the fall of 2020 didn’t play out how I thought it would. Ourschool adjusted normal dismissal time back to 12:45pm every day, but because the children weren’t eating lunch due to COVID safety restrictions, I picked Hope up early at 12:00pm, which also afforded me the opportunity for a privateconversation with her teacher every single day. As weeks went on, the enthusiasm this teacher had shown over welcoming Hope to her classroom was diminishing, replaced with comments of frustration aimed toward both Hope and a few of her classmates. On some days at pickup I would just scoop Hope up into my arms, afraid to ask if it had been a good day or not, and hustled to the car before anyone could see the tears welling in my eyes.
What was I doing wrong? Was this all because we sheltered through spring and summer? Did I fail Hope at home? Was she becoming some maladjusted child with behaviors we inadvertently let slide?
A lot of tension was building around Hope taking her shoes offin her classroom. One day when I came to pick her up, I overheard through open classroom windows the teacher yelling at Hope from across the room to put her shoes on. Before I was in view, I saw a little classmate of hers toddle over and, looking between the teacher and Hope, scramble to try to help her put her shoes back on, which neither this little girl nor Hope were able to do. When I came into sight, the teacher’s tone changed to one that was playful and friendly, sharing that mommy had arrived and it was time to go. I would say this was probably the first time an alarm bell really started to go