The parents of a special needs student are suing the Pasco School District, alleging the boy was psychologically and physically abused by his teacher and the district didn’t take steps to prevent it.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court. The school district has a month to file a response.
“When your child is sent to school, especially a little boy with special needs, you’re trusting the school to take care of him. When they not only don’t take care of him, but there’s abuse, it undermines your belief in the safety of the school system,” said Scott Johnson, the Richland attorney representing the boy and his parents, Ivan Romero and Jessica Juarez.
“(The parents) don’t want others to go through this. That’s why they feel it’s important for Pasco to change the way it deals with matters like this. That’s why we’re here,” said Johnson, adding that if families had similar experiences with the teacher, Ratree Albers, they should contact him or otherwise make a report.
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A district spokeswoman said Albers has left the district to pursue other work, and no misconduct with the boy was ever substantiated.
“Pasco School District recognizes that the allegations set forth in the lawsuit touch upon sensitive subjects for all of the involved individuals, as well as the community. The district, however, is unable to offer any further comment on the lawsuit or the specific allegations contained in the lawsuit at this time out of respect for the legal process,” the district said in a statement.
As the matter works its way through the legal system, “the district remains committed to providing a safe and positive educational experience for all of its students and appreciates the support of all staff in supporting this commitment,” the statement said.
The boy, who has autism and ADHD, is now 9 but was 7 at the time of the alleged abuse.
He was a first-grader in the individual education program at Captain Gray Elementary in Pasco, but was transferred along with some other students to Robert Frost Elementary in September 2013.
He was placed in Albers’ class.
Soon after the transfer, his parents began noticing a change in his behavior — he became more aggressive and combative, and he’d frequently tell his mom, “no school” and, “no Ratree,” the lawsuit said.
The boy’s mother also noticed bruising on his legs, the lawsuit said.
That April, a teacher’s aide contacted Romero and Juarez about Albers’ treatment of the boy, who’s called S.R. in the lawsuit.
“According to (the aide), S.R. would often ask the same question numerous times. (The aide) noticed that Albers would ignore S.R. (The aide) said S.R. would frequently apologize to Albers and that Albers would continue to ignore him,” the lawsuit said.
The aide also “witnessed times when S.R. wanted to get out of his chair. (The aide) would see Albers sit directly behind (the boy) and push his chair into the table, not letting him out of his chair. This is consistent with the bruising on S.R.’s leg,” the lawsuit said.
Albers also allegedly took the boy into a dark bathroom as punishment after he acted up, even though he’s scared of the dark, the lawsuit said.
Earlier in that school year, Albers was placed on administrative leave for abusing students in her class, the lawsuit said.
“According to records provided by (the district), Albers had engaged in a pattern of abuse against children in her class for an extended period of time. The abuse included, but was not limited to, yelling at children, hitting children, psychologically tormenting children and pinning children in chairs,” the lawsuit said.
However, she was allowed to return to class after about 10 days and district officials apparently never reported the alleged abuse to police or the Department of Social and Health Services, as required, the lawsuit said.
When Romero and Juarez later confronted district officials about their son’s alleged mistreatment, they said they didn’t know Albers was abusive toward students, the lawsuit said.
Along with the school district and Albers, the lawsuit names Nora Flores, the principal of Robert Frost, along with district administrator Tim Sullivan and former Superintendent Saundra Hill.
It seeks unspecified damages.