* ProPublica Illinois reporters Duaa Eldeib, Lakeidra Chavis and Haru Coryne and Chicago Tribune reporter Jennifer Smith Richards…
The knock came on Beth Sandy’s door late one Friday afternoon at the end of May.
Standing outside was an investigator with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the state agency charged with examining allegations of child abuse and neglect.
Sandy assumed she was in trouble for violating truancy laws. A week earlier, she had pulled her 7-year-old son from Gages Lake School, which serves young children in suburban Lake County with behavioral and emotional disabilities, after he complained of a scary office and began hiding under the bed when the school bus arrived. […]
But she wasn’t the target of the investigation; school employees were. An administrator at Gages Lake had reported concerns to DCFS that Sandy’s son Staley had been physically abused, the investigator explained. There was video. The investigator wanted to talk with the boy.
Since mid-May, DCFS has opened a total of 21 abuse investigations involving students at Gages Lake. Citing evidence from surveillance video, agency reports describe workers grabbing children by the wrists, shoving them into walls and throwing them to the ground in a cluster of four seclusion spaces — some with lockable doors, others open — that the school calls “the office.”
Two aides at the center of the investigations resigned from the school. One of them is facing criminal charges; Lake County prosecutors allege he used excessive force on students. […]
Two weeks into the current school year, a teacher contacted DCFS with a warning, records show. “None of the children at the school are safe,” he said. […]
During the 15-month period reporters examined, from August 2017 to December 2018, Gages Lake students were secluded more times than students at all but one Illinois school included in the analysis.
More recent data obtained by the Tribune and ProPublica Illinois shows that Gages Lake put students in isolation more than 1,700 times in the school year that ended in May. At least 23% of those timeouts occurred for no documented safety reason, reporters found. Instead, the students had disrespected staff, failed to comply with rules or engaged in verbal abuse.
The Special Education District of Lake County, the district that oversees Gages Lake and several other programs for students with disabilities, is one of eight districts under investigation by the Illinois State Board of Education in response to the Tribune/ProPublica Illinois report. SEDOL has joined other Illinois districts in taking the doors off seclusion rooms after the state banned isolated seclusion.
* And there’s more…
An aide named Nicholas Izquierdo, who was sitting in a rolling chair, leaned down and grabbed the boy by the ankles, causing the child to fall to the ground, according to DCFS records and his parents, who watched video of the incident.
After watching the footage, school officials reported the incident to DCFS and an investigator showed up at the boy’s home on the evening of May 17. The boy, who has ADHD and behavioral disabilities, told the worker he was sent to the seclusion space when he didn’t follow directions to walk — not run — in a hallway, according to agency records.
School officials watched more surveillance video from the office, which is kept for 30 days. They made another call to DCFS, then another, then another.
ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune reviewed confidential DCFS records that describe what school officials saw in the videos.
The Gurnee boy appeared on video several times. Footage from April 24 showed a different aide, Jennifer Aguirre, carrying him across a room and then throwing him into the timeout area, where he landed on a tile floor. On May 3, Aguirre grabbed the boy by the wrist, turned him around and picked him up.
Staley, the boy from Round Lake Heights, was shown in one of the rooms within the office on April 30. Aguirre, sitting on a rolling chair in the doorway, blocked him from leaving, once pinning his wrist against the wall. He got increasingly upset and kicked at her. She then stood up, chased Staley down and grabbed him around the neck.
On May 1, according to records describing the videos, Izquierdo pulled a 5-year-old boy’s legs out from under him, causing him to fall on his arm. “It is surprising (the boy’s) arm wasn’t broken,” a school administrator told DCFS, according to the agency records. A week later, on May 8, records show, Izquierdo pushed an 8-year-old boy in his chest and onto the floor when the student tried to leave the room.
In all, in a one-month period, school officials identified possible physical abuse involving eight children, from 5 to 8 years old, DCFS records show.
The grotesqueness of treating little kids this way just boggles my mind. I generally refrain from using the word “evil,” but it very well may apply here.
* These kids were often punished for minor rules infractions, not because they were a potential harm to themselves or others…
Attorney Micki Moran, who specializes in education law and has consulted with Gages Lake families, said the numbers illustrate that the use of timeouts was embedded in the school’s culture.
“They did it as if it’s what you do every day, like it’s the norm,” Moran said. “These kids weren’t always a danger to themselves or anybody. Frequently these happened because of noncompliance, period.”
For example, after Staley’s mother requested his records, she saw that he was taken to the office for hiding under a cubby, not following directions, flipping a chair and refusing to come inside from recess.
* And there’s this…
In October, a sheriff’s officer reported to DCFS that an 8-year-old boy had a scratch on his face and a possible swollen eye after a teacher grabbed him by the face and arm as he was running in the hall.
Two parents also reported that employees had pushed or grabbed their children. When DCFS interviewed one of the boys, he described the office as “a mean place where they put you in rooms with nothing in there and you have to sit” for 10 minutes.
A school employee reported that a 9-year-old boy told her he was elbowed in the face by a teacher. And a teacher called DCFS at the end of the school day on Aug. 29 to report that the school was unsafe for students and staff members. He said the school was “extremely understaffed” and students were wandering freely and physically fighting each other, DCFS records show.
* The root of the problem appears to be lack of qualified staff and employees who despise their charges…
“You have to use force. If you can’t, you have just kids running through the hallway doing what they want to do. Who will stop them? (Staff) are all scared,” said the former Gages Lake aide. “These kids are not kids, these are animals. They are strong.”
These kids are not kids?
*** UPDATE *** Rep. Jonathan Carroll…
It’s situations like this in Gages Lake that show how impactful the use of isolation is on all children. The fact that staff took it to another level with physical abuse angers me to the core. Where was the oversight? Who let this happen on his/her watch? What kind of monsters are these schools hiring? How can anyone live with him/herself when they see a child being thrown into a room and physically abused? Fixing this evil will be my number one priority this upcoming legislative session.