BEL AIR, Md. (WJZ) — A new call for action. Outrage is growing after WJZ detailed allegations of abuse involving autistic students at a Harford County elementary school.
WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren spoke to the former school principal about who should be held accountable.
She blames the school system for not having resources and hopes the exposure of the problems will bring changes. So do other teachers.
The Maryland Disability Law Center’s damning report claims staff at Hickory Elementary in Bel Air abused vulnerable autistic students, spraying them with water and threatening them.
It’s generated outrage among WJZ viewers, and has the president of the Harford teachers’ union calling for more training and resources.
“We have to address the systemic failure,” said Ryan Burbey, president, Harford County Education Association. “Mistakes were clearly made. Hopefully, the system has learned from the mistakes.”
The principal of the school at the time, Jeanette Jennings, says she never covered up what happened, including the water spraying.
“Ten minutes after I talked to the person who was reporting it, I called central office,” said Jennings. “I was told by the superintendent that I handled the situation fine.”
The Disability Law Center is “…concerned Child Protective Services…did not recognize the situation as one that involved abuse and warranted investigation.”
“Accountability is huge, and at every level here, there was a breakdown in that accountability,” said Leslie Margolis, Maryland Disability Law Center.
WJZ reached out repeatedly to the school system for an interview. They declined every request.
We wanted to know–what’s being done to hold the school staff involved in the incidents accountable?
In a statement, the school’s spokeswoman noted several employees were fired, demoted or placed on administrative leave–like the principal, who has since retired.
No criminal charges have been filed.
“I think the teacher has been held accountable in that she did end up resigning her position,” said Jennings.
Hellgren: “Do you think you were made a scapegoat for all this?”
Jennings: “Without a doubt. And not just me. I think there were several. We had an assistant principal who was made a scapegoat.”
“Most people who were involved are glad that now the program is getting the attention that it needs,” she continued.
Former principal Jennings notes her own grandniece now attends the autism program at Hickory.
The MDLC investigation found staff threatened students with markers and a rolling pin, and some children were isolated from the class using partitions that left them with little room to move.