An administrative court decision represents quite a victory for a Fulton family and quite a condemnation of Fulton County schools. The details of this saga continue to shock – a middle school teacher mistreated and abused a student with cerebral palsy.
But witnesses also say Hopewell Middle School special education teacher Melanie Pickens also punished students, including Alex Williams, by restraining them in a chair and leaving them in the dark.
Investigators hired by Fulton schools and from the state’s Professional Standards Commission confirmed the abuse, saying that Pickens screamed at students, hit, kicked and cursed at them, sprayed them with disinfectant and passed gas in their faces.
“Her inappropriate behavior and treatment ran the gamut from being too rough with special education students to sheer meanness,” an investigator wrote in his report to Fulton Schools.
Chris Vance, a lawyer for the families, said the school system failed to protect Pickens’ students. Vance said teachers and their assistants, principals, a custodian, special-education officials and bus drivers knew that Pickens harmed her students during four years she worked in the system.
In an earlier AJC story, Vance asked, “How could so many people know and not care?”
The Williams had asked the courts to order Fulton to pay for schooling for their son.
According to the AJC:
Judge Kimberly Schroer said Alex Williams, now 19, is entitled to a private education at the district’s expense for the next five years. That education will include training, therapy and a plan with goals so he can learn to become more independent.
Schroer said that Fulton Schools “violated” the student’s educational rights, and Williams’ parents “do not want him to be placed in any other traditional school setting that might remind him of the past abuse.” The ruling also compels the district to reimburse Doug and Lisa Williams for private services they used to help their son after he left school.
“This is awesome,” Lisa Williams said late Wednesday. “I had no sense of how she was going to rule. Everything that we have dealt with, I didn’t know if anybody was ever going to do the right thing.”
Fulton Schools officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The family and their lawyer have said Alex Williams was hit, kicked and humiliated by Hopewell Middle special education teacher Melanie Pickens. The principal at the time, Frances Boyd, now retired, failed to investigate the reports of abuse.
Chris Vance, attorney for the Williamses, said the family will seek $10 million in a federal lawsuit.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog