Lawsuit Against School District Alleges Mistreatment of Child With Autism

Orange Unified School District says they take all allegations of abuse seriously. However, the district investigation found no evidence of teacher misconduct.

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    Orange County Unified School District is defending itself against claims of teacher misconduct after the family of an autistic boy says they were devastated to hear their child was restrained for crying. Vikki Vargas reports from Palmyra Elementary with more on what the family is saying for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (Published Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014)

    The parents of an 11-year-old boy with autism have filed a lawsuit against the Orange Unified School District on allegations of physical and psychological abuse.

    The lawsuit alleges that 5th grade student Andrew Ashline was "taken down" - restrained by a teacher at Palmyra Elementary School for crying, an act of discipline that the parents believe went too far.

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    "Two person, floor prone, for over 12 minutes. On our 50-pound child," his mother Joanna Ashline said.

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    An autism expert says there are times when a child can be restrained, such as if they are posing a threat to themselves or to others. Andrew’s parents say that is not the case in the situation that occurred during the 2012-2013 academic school year.

    "Unfortunately, you’re dealing with an individual who cannot speak for himself. He literally cannot come home and say, 'this is happening to me,'" Joanna Ashline said.

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    Andrew can’t speak and communicates only through an iPad. That iPad was also allegedly taken away from him. Andrew’s parents said that in attempt for their son to bring attention to himself, he began scratching himself.

    "(Andrew) was scratching at his face all over. The stress that was he was enduring was manifesting in self-mutilation," his father Michael Ashline said.

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    The allegations were brought to the attention of Andrew’s parents by an aide at the school.

    The Ashlines are now suing the Orange Unified School District. Their attorney says it’s the only way to find out exactly what happened in the classroom.

    According to autism expert Jess Block-Nerren the legal battle the Ashlines are fighting won't help parents of other autistic children.

    "There’s this saying that if you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism. And the reason why is because all of our kids are different," Block-Nerren said.

    Andrew has moved to another school. His parents say the scratching stopped a few weeks later.

    "He’s entitled to go to school like all the other kids and be safe," Michael Ashline said.

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    Orange Unified School District says they take all allegations of abuse seriously. In this case, however, they don’t believe the teacher mistreated Andrew.

    "The district investigation found no evidence of teacher misconduct. Throughout the process, the district worked with the parents to ensure that the student received appropriate placement and services," Superintendent Michael Christensen said in a statement.

    Orange Police were called in to investigate the matter and their investigation is complete.

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