April 23, 2014

Schools Superintendent Cochrane Should Initiate Objective Assessment of “Troubling Suspension”

To the Editor:

Our new Superintendent of Schools, Steve Cochrane, did not directly address the question raised in your April 16 mailbox [“Former Board of Ed President Discusses Reported Mistreatment of District Student”] regarding the troubling suspension of a disabled six-year-old boy.The suspension came after the boy’s teacher and other school personnel misguidedly interpreted as sexual misconduct his rocking back and forth and attendant bumping of his groin area — behavior professional therapists diagnosed as stemming from school related anxiety, likely a consequence of a motor disability so severe he could not write.

The ensuing actions by educators evidently ill-equipped to distinguish disability from willful misbehavior indicate a punitive bureaucracy operating willfully itself and without checks once it is set in motion. The school ignored pleas from the boy’s parents for intervention with the disability until it was ready to suspend him; it appointed an evaluation team comprised not of outside experts, but of only some of the staff responsible for the decision to suspend.

When the parents took the district to court to have the boy returned to school, the judge found against the district for misconceived and unwarranted treatment of a child and authorized his transfer to a different district school. That treatment by district staff — by those to whom we entrust our children’s care — terrorized a little boy, possibly for the long term, and traumatized a family.

Mr. Cochrane, who was not superintendent when the case unfolded, is in an ideal position to initiate an objective and transparent assessment of what went so terribly wrong and institute measures to prevent its happening again. It is to be hoped that his revisiting the circumstances, the errors in judgment, and the defensive closing of the ranks by school personnel, will alleviate his stated worries about exposing “allegations” [Topics of the Town, April 16] that, according to the judgment of the court, are facts and about revealing the identities of his staff, already published in the court’s decision.

Parents in the district need to know schools will enlist independent experts to assess and intervene in the face of odd behaviors and will not countenance, let alone support, runaway malfeasance on the part of professional educators. They need to know their children will be safe when they go to school.

Susan Sugarman

Parkside Drive