I know that if you read my Facebook post you are angry. If you're anything like me, the anger will deepen as days go on. I want to share with you everything. Starting from the day I met her teacher.
It was nearing the end of the school year in 2015 and we scheduled a transition meeting with her new teacher. Lizzy was going from the middle school to high school. I walked in and he stayed seated. Most of the time, the men in the room would stand and greet me. As we started the meeting, he took full control while I tried to jump in with concerns. We discussed everything we needed to from Lizzy's eating to her medicines. When we got to the aide, adult support staff, one on one, etc, I usually have the floor in discussing what type of person we would need for Lizzy. In fact, you may remember in my Facebook videos, there is one of a woman teaching Lizzy to say "mama". She was the one we wanted to be with Lizzy. She was at the school already and was willing to be with Lizzy. He cut me off and says "I have someone for Lizzy." And that was that. We ended with someone that I would have never put with Lizzy. I find out just this year that teachers are not able to pick aides. They are selected at the district level.
Lizzy was at this school only a year and a half. He started with the time outs immediately. It was always because she was too loud. He would take pictures and send them to me of her in a time out and it broke my heart. I repeatedly told him that Lizzy doesn't go to time outs at home and he said she needed them and it worked at school. He would tell me about time outs she would get on a field trip and he would tell her "you're going into time out when we get back to school." He would tell me that she would rub his arm to avoid going into time out. I would say she never does that at home...rubbing my arm. Are you cringing yet? I started to get that gut feeling.
Flashback. I remember when the other female student arrived. Lizzy had been the only one. In years actually. I let about two weeks pass and then sent this email January 30, 2016.
Good afternoon. I want to thank you for a smooth transition for Lizzy from the middle school into high school. I truly believe that Lizzy has enjoyed everyday she has been in Mr. XXXXX class. I appreciate that very much.
I was excited to hear about the new student in the classroom. Lizzy has a girlfriend she can look forward to spending time with each day. Mr. XXXXX tells me that they communicate with each other. I think that is just awesome.
I want it to be very clear that Courtney was hired for Elizabeth Viele. I understand what assistant student support staff is. However, Lizzy has several pieces of documentation stating that she needs someone with her and by her side every minute of the day. We have had meeting after meeting about it. There is a doctor’s letter in her file stating reasons for this. We have been in the district for a long time now and have fought for her to have this. If we had not pushed, the school district would never have given her one. That is just the way it is. We attend every meeting that is required of us and stay involved. Let me be very clear in that I have 100% confidence that Lizzy is well cared for and that Mr. XXXXX and his two additional support are competent in the classroom with the kids. I do not want to visit the classroom and see that Ms. Courtney is being used for the other female student. Her parents are responsible to fighting for her to get a support aide. That is not my responsibility.
If we need to meet and discuss this, I am available. If this is something that needs to be rectified, please do this very soon. As parents of Lizzy, we don’t tolerate issues like this. We are her advocate for EVERY area of her life. Her life is as important as your life is.
This issue has not been discussed with anyone until now.
Mr. XXXXX was very upset with me because the district (women) came into his classroom. He was angry with me for a while. I told him that it wasn't about you, and he didn't take that very well. The other girl in the class received an aide. Then there were two female aides!
Back to this year. Her teacher had to go out for heart surgery and would be absent from school for three months. Not a single time out was given to this class full of non verbal teenagers. It was amazing. This class did great with out this punishment. This IS a punishment for doing something wrong. So Lizzy is non verbal and expresses all emotions through squealing and grunts. He tried to take these kids voices away.
We would tell him to take Lizzy out of her chair for about 20 minutes of every hour. Her stroller is for transportation and isn't meant for sitting all day. He ignored that.
Damon was giving Lizzy a bath one night and noticed a fresh bruise (Lizzy bruises easily and has 10-15 mini bruises on her at all times) and asked me about it. So I texted her teacher and he didn't know. That isn't a big deal to me that he didn't know. But when he said he had been thinking about where it came from for two days, I was like, "really, it's fine." When I dropped her off the next day, I had Em with me. I get Lizzy out and he said to me "I figured out what happen to her back." He then says "When I lift her shirt off, her back bangs against the back of her stroller." I get in the van and say to Em, "why the heck is he taking her shirt off?"
Then March 21st happened. He thought it was so funny that he had to tell me.
"I took Lizzy to a room for time out today and she was really quiet and looking around."
I get home and tell Damon and I start getting angry. I email the assistant principal and meet with him the next morning. He is concerned and said he would call me after addressing this with her teacher. He calls me two hours later and says he met with him and took care of it.
We immediately start the process to transfer Lizzy to Damon's school. The next morning her teacher texts me "is Lizzy coming to school?" Damon says to just say no. I did. He then texts me "is she sick?" Damon says "he is fishing for information, don't respond."
The following email was sent March 24, 2017. I sent this email because when I called her high school, the principal had no idea anything had happened. I called asking for him to complete the waiver immediately.
My name is Lisa Viele and my daughter, Lizzy, is a student in Mr. XXXXX class at Socastee High School. Lizzy has a female paraprofessional whom I never see. I never speak with her about Lizzy. Mr. XXXXX uses time out with Lizzy because she is loud. Lizzy is non verbal and uses squeals and grunts for her communication. I have never agreed with him putting her in time out. He once sent me a photo of her in timeout and it made me very upset. Just this week he told me that he took Lizzy to a separate room for time out. What on earth did my child do to even have to be secluded from her paraprofessional and classmates. And an even bigger issue is why was he allowed to take her. Mr. XXXXX has been teaching for years. He knows what to do and what not to do. He took my non verbal, legally blind daughter into a room where it was just him and her. He even told me that she was looking around and being very quiet. This was Lizzy being scared. Mr. XXXXX thought it was funny. Further, why didn’t ANY of the female aides try to intervene and say “whoa, let me take her”. You have no one in that classroom that stood up for Lizzy and protected her. Since being there (2 years), I have noticed several times his aides leaving at 2:45-3:00. Where is Lizzy’s female aide then?? I am extremely rattled and upset by this. We have completed a waiver online for her to be transferred to SJHS effective MONDAY.
Dr. Browning asked for this issue to be in an email.
We received this email in return from the district office. (3/24/17)
Thank you for sharing your concerns in this email. I have spoken to Mr. XXXX (AP). I will continue to be involved with Lizzy. I will be visiting SJHS on Monday. I know Ms. XXXXX is working with staff. I have made contacts with district leads.
Again, thank you for making me aware of your concerns.
The next day they had district people at Lizzy's new high school and in the classroom at her old high school. Someone, and I really do not know who, decided to bring THE OTHER female aide over with Lizzy and NOT her aide that has been with her for a year and a half. How weird. Something else, I didn't even know this aides name. No idea. Mr. XXXXX apparently didn't think it was important. So when I brought Lizzy for her first day and she walked up to us, we just looked at each other. She was telling me something with her eyes. I spoke first. "Hi, I am really sorry but I don't even know your first name". "Karen" she says. I said "apparently Mr. XXXXX didn't think that was something I needed to know". She looked at me again with her telling eyes. Lizzy knew her though. Karen bent down to talk to her and Lizzy hugged her and squealed with happiness.
I am going to tell you something that Karen told me. Yes, aides are not allowed to speak with parents. Blah! How cold. This district has created a very lonely environment for us parents. We can't connect with the ones that take care of our child for 8 hours a day. The person that feeds and changes Lizzy isn't allowed to give me information on anything. They muzzle them. Make them afraid of losing their jobs. The district has done a very good job of creating fear in these aides. We did have a meeting with district level staff about this a few weeks ago and finally addressed it.
Getting back to Karen. She was fired on day three. Lizzy started on Wednesday and Friday afternoon, I was greeted by the AP and the district person in charge of aides. Apparently Karen wouldn't change a male students diaper. She had just gotten there with Lizzy. Could she of had a few more days to settle in? Something didn't seem right. On Thursday, when Karen came to the van to get Lizzy for the day, I spoke with her. Candidly.
Karen: I don't get this district. I'm probably going to get fired.
Lisa: Why, because of your mouth? Haha"
Karen: Well yeah, that too. I am still good friends with my daughters aides from when she was in school. My daughter had an IEP and was in special education and I was so close to her aides.
Lisa: Do you know why we are here?
Karen: Yeah, the time out. I would watch him take her in there and think, he's gonna get in trouble. I told him when he came out "that's not cool" but he walked right by me and ignored me. He really never talked to Courtney and I. He really doesn't like women. Actually, I worry more about the boys than I do the girls.
Lisa: (trying to hold it together) We plan to open an investigation.
Karen: Good. I will tell the truth.
She took Lizzy in and I got in the van and immediately texted Damon. I always text or talk to Damon after something odd happens just so someone else knows.
We sent an email on March 27, 2017 to the assistant principal over special education at the high school.
Good evening. We wanted to follow up with you on the issue we had concerning our daughter, Elizabeth Viele. We wanted to touch base with you as soon as possible to discuss the outcome of the your investigation of Mr. XXXXX use of seclusion of Lizzy in class. We think that this is highly inappropriate and have begun to the process to move Lizzy to St. James High School starting this week. Please, respond at your earliest convenience, your “findings” related to the use of “timeout” or seclusion in Mr. XXXXX class. When did this take place? How long was she in there? What was the room like? Was anyone else involved? Where is this room? Are there windows in the room? Why was XXXXX, her paraprofessional, not involved? Can we see the room? Why was she put in this seclusion room? How many times has this taken place over the last year-and-a-half?
After speaking with other special education instructors the use of a “timeout” room is not protocol and we certainly never gave permission for her to be put in a “special” room to correct behavior or for any other reasons. We consider this a major problem and a violation of best teaching practices. Other teachers were surprised to find that a non-verbal and blind special needs girl would be put in a room with someone other than her female paraprofessional for any reason. This is certainly not part of her IEP or any other documentation. We would like to give you an opportunity to respond to these questions before taking any other steps in this situation.
Thank you for your time,
Damon and Lisa Viele
He responded the next day with his findings and we could meet. We met on a Friday afternoon. He took us to the seclusion room. It is located right after another teachers room and right before Lizzy's classroom. There is a window in the door. It is a room used for testing. He had generic answers. How long was she in there. All staff said 90 seconds. Why was she in there? She was too loud. We went through all of it and Damon looked at me and said "well?" I shook my head and started to raise my voice "is he stupid?, really, is he that stupid?" The AP just shook his head. I sad to Damon, "no, I'm not satisfied." He said ok and we left.
We sat on it for awhile. Maybe two weeks and then sent this on April 28.
We were made aware of an incident that happened with our daughter, Elizabeth Viele, on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. Her teacher, Mr. XXXXXX, put her into a time out where he took her into a seclusion room. This is and was a highly inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. Our daughter is blind and non-verbal. We went against our attorney’s counsel, which was to immediately contact the local sheriffs office and report the incident. Instead we asked for an investigation from Mr. XXXXXX , who is the VP at Socastee High School. While we appreciate his efforts, we came away unsatisfied with his findings. We are now requesting a district level investigation.
We want to be clear why we are asking for this investigation. Our 17-year-old blind, non-verbal handicapped daughter who is defenseless and not able to speak a word was wheeled into a room in her wheelchair with a man who thought she deserved a time out away from other people. We understand that the room has a window in it but that is irrelevant. Our daughter can’t speak or defend herself and it is up to her mom, her dad, to do just that and us. We feel that she was not in the best care when this happened. Mr. XXXXX has been putting her in time out since she arrived at Socastee High School a year and a half ago.
Mr. XXXXX never did what we asked him to. We told him that Lizzy was not to be in her chair all day, as her chair is just for transportation. He would let her lean over in her chair and fall asleep, leaving towel (for her drooling) mark impressions on her arms. When we would ask, he wouldn’t have an answer other than, “I don’t know.”
We are asking that Anthony, Courtney, and Karen (was terminated) be included in this investigation. We are asking for information on all things Elizabeth is addressed.
1) Her time outs. Why would she have a time out? How long did her time outs last? Where was she was for time outs (location)? Who was with her? Where is the documentation for the time outs? Where is the seclusion room located? Do many people walk by that seclusion room?
2) Field Trips. Where did she sit on the bus? Who sat with her or next to her? Who fed her? Who would change her? Who would be with Lizzy at the destination?
3) Her adult support. Courtney. Did Mr. XXXXX request her? (He refused to entertain an aide requested by Lizzy’s mom that had known Lizzy for years. She taught Lizzy to say momma.) When Mr. XXXXX brought in Lizzy in the morning, what role did she play? Did she feed Lizzy? Did she always change Lizzy? When she would leave early, did the other female aid take over? When both female aides left early, who would have Lizzy? Did you ever feel like Lizzy wasn’t safe? If not, why? Please give details. On most days, did you get Lizzy for arrival? If not, why? On most days, did you bring Lizzy out for dismissal? If not, why?
4) Aides in classroom. Did anyone other than females change Lizzy? When Lizzy was taken into a time out, did anyone question Mr. XXXXX about it? Why would you be allowed to leave so early? As early as 2:45. Did Lizzy receive any time outs during the time Mr. XXXXX was away due to his surgery? He was gone for sometime. Was there anything about Mr. XXXXX that bothered you when he was dealing with Lizzy? Do you have many people walking into and out of the classroom? Did you ever feel like Lizzy wasn’t safe? If not, why. Please give details. Mr. XXXXX behavior. Did you ever see Mr. XXXXX push Lizzy’s head (including “playful” pushing)? Did you ever see Mr. XXXXX pull Lizzy’s hair (including “playful” tugging) Any kind of behavior from him that made you feel uncomfortable about it? Mr. XXXXX would tell us that she would receive time outs on the bus during a field trip. He would say to Lizzy “you going into time out when we get back.” He would then tell me SHE would rub his arm to “get back into good graces” with him. Is this true? Would she rub his arm? Would you ever see Mr. XXXXX in a time out with Lizzy? What would he do while she was in the time out? Have you ever seen Mr. XXXXX with Lizzy in a seclusion time out? What did you see? Did you ever say anything to Mr. XXXXX about taking her into time out or into a seclusion time out? What did you say? What was his response?
We understand that this will take some time. We also understand that it is in your best interest not to find anything troubling. Once the investigation is complete and we have had some time to review it, we will contact you.
Damon and Lisa Viele
We then get an email about receiving the request. (5/1/17)
I call Ms. Wilson in charge of the investigation and leave a message with her administrative assistant. I also call the superintendent and leave a message with him as well. (5/24/17)
We receive the following email that night. (May, 24, 2017)
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Viele,
Horry County Schools is in receipt of your May 1, 2017 email correspondence requesting an investigation of your concerns regarding your daughter, Elizabeth Viele a student previously enrolled at Socastee High School. We have completed a thorough investigation, which included a review of documentation and interviews. Based on the information obtained during the investigation, we have determined there was no inappropriate use of “time-away” and/or “time-out” as a behavioral intervention. With regard to the additional items outlined in your correspondence, our investigation further concluded that no other inappropriate or unprofessional behavior occurred.
We trust this information will provide you with a response addressing your concerns. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at 843-488-6808.
Kristin A. Wilson
Executive Director, Federal Programs Horry County Schools
My thoughts go to Karen. Was she interviewed? If she was, there should be a different outcome here. But, she was fired so she doesn't owe the district anything. Karen really is the key to this investigation. The other aides still have their jobs and are still in the classroom with him still.
We did go to the Sherrif's department who sent us to the police department. I was put in contact with the resource officer at her old high school. He is a police officer. He took everything I said and spoke to several people including his sergeant. He called me back the next day and said nothing criminal happened. Honestly? How would we ever know with Lizzy being non verbal and blind.
He did say that we could file a civil suit.
That teacher takes away the only voice these kids have. Non verbal kids have a voice! They are human beings with the same rights as you and I.
I did request all records and documentation regarding this "thorough"investigation. The superintendent, Rick Maxey emailed me and said he was giving the request to Teal Britton.
We do plan on contacting Ken Suggs at Janet, Jenner and Suggs for his advice. He has helped us through the years and is the only attorney we trust. He has been with us since the beginning.
Lizzy is doing well. She is with her dad and sister at St. James. He checks on her and gives her love everyday. She does have an aide that is wonderful with her. I feel so good about her. She is loving and has made this transition easier. The whole staff at her new school has been amazing. Thank you to them!
Thank you for all your support.