Sunday, February 24, 2008

Students with disabilities abused by teacher, according to police

Via The Herald Tribune

Herald Tribune
Staff Report
Published Friday, Feb. 22, 2008 at 8:38 a.m.

VENICE — A Venice Elementary School teacher is under arrest this morning, charged with the abuse of mentally handicapped students in her classroom.

Venice police say Diana Z. O'Neill hit students on more than one occasion, kicked a child and twisted a child's arm behind his back.

Two teacher aides in O'Neill's classroom came forward because they were concerned that the students were in danger, according to police.

One of the aides gave school officials a written log of the incidents of alleged abuse.

Police documents list four of the five students in O'Neill's classroom as victims in the case.

The school district placed O'Neill on administrative leave last week.

She turned herself in at the Venice Police Department on Thursday. She's charged with four counts of aggravated child abuse.

Police reports say that O’Neill routinely hurt four of the students in her class.

Girl, 7, punished with "body sock"

Parents of a 7-year-old girl, who has the motor skills of an 11- to 14-month-old child, say the teacher’s physical abuse caused their daughter to lose enthusiasm. She had trouble sleeping and became quick-tempered, police reports state.

Aides reported O’Neill had kicked the girl in the legs, hit her in the head with objects, pushed her to the floor and used a “weighted blanket” and a “body sock” — two therapy tools that restrict movement — to punish her.

The aides told police that O’Neill told the girl to get out of a chair on Oct. 12 and gave her “a good push,” causing the girl to trip and hit her head on the floor so hard she started to cry, although she rarely cries.

The girl went to the school nurse, who filled out an incident report based on what O’Neill told her — that the girl “tripped on chair leg — fell backwards on floor,” police records state.

The aides told police O’Neill struck the girl numerous times in December, including three times with a board and with her hand on Dec. 5; with her hand, an arm brace and twice with a binder on Dec. 12; with an arm brace on Dec. 17; and with a water bottle on Jan. 14.

When O’Neill pushed the girl on Jan. 18, she hit her head on a metal door frame and caused a lump, but O’Neill reported the girl “fell into a wall” and had “zero sign of head injury, applied ice,” police said.

A week later, O’Neill got out a blue weighted blanket and wrapped up the girl from head to toe with her hands at her side, and then let her go, one aide told police.

The girl lost her balance and hit her head as she fell to the floor, police reported. As she tried to free herself, she hit the base of a swing, and O’Neill chuckled, the aide told police.

O’Neill also used the body sock to cover the girl, pinning her arms to her sides, then gave her a little push, and the girl fell into a shelf and hit her head, the aide told police.

The girl’s parents told police that since O’Neill was removed from the classroom, the girl has been happier, more verbal, more social, a better sleeper and less aggressive when agitated.

Autistic boy allowed to hit head on wall

A boy in O’Neill’s class who is diagnosed with autism, seizure disorder and developmental delay, has the abilities of a 15- to 24-month-old child, police reports said. His mother says the boy does not know right from wrong in most cases, and has little understanding of consequences.

Aides told police that O’Neill would wheel his chair into the corner when the boy acted up at lunch, leaving him there. The boy would respond by hitting his head on the wall and O’Neill would say sarcastically, “don’t hit your head,” but allowed him to continue.

Once in the corner of the cafeteria, out of sight of most people, O’Neill would also twist his arm behind him or twist fingers until he cried out in pain, the aides said.

There is a chair the boy can be restrained in as an alternative way to control him, the aides said.

The boy has his own nurse with him at all times because of a seizure disorder, but O’Neill would not allow the nurse in the classroom because she said he is a distraction to learning, the aides said.

Girl backhanded in head, reports say

An 11-year-old girl who is in a wheelchair, who had half of her brain removed when she was 11 months old, still has a soft spot in her head where the sections of the skull do not meet. She is also prone to seizures.

O’Neill backhanded the girl in the head, fed her in a rough manner that caused the girl’s lip to bleed and degraded her in front of others, according to police reports.

An aide told police that O’Neill was feeding the girl on Jan. 28 and backhanded her in the head when the girl did not follow prompts to choose between a bite of food or a sip of her drink.

The aide said O’Neill would ram the spoon in the girl’s mouth during meals so hard that her gums bled.

Boy, 8, came home with bruises

An 8-year-old boy in O’Neill’s class has Down syndrome and a seizure disorder. His mother told police he has come home from school with bruises on the back of his thighs.

The aides told police O’Neill has hit him in the head with a variety of objects, kicked him in the buttocks, slapped him and pulled a rag from his mouth so hard that it removed a tooth.

O’Neill also used a gait belt as a leash that left bruises and scratches on the boy’s back and neck.

The boy just learned to walk and gets tired, and one day O’Neill placed a cloth belt across his chest and under his arms when he sat down on the floor to rest, the aides told police.

O’Neill used the belt to yank the boy to his feet several times, telling him, “You’re going to stand,” aides told police.

Another time, the boy bit down on a wash cloth O’Neill was using to clean out his mouth and she yanked it out so hard that a bottom tooth went flying over her right shoulder, the aides told police.