Florida - A teacher's aide who was once charged with using a marker to hit an autistic boy is under investigation again after new audio emerged, the Miami Herald reported Wednesday.
Four years ago, prosecutors dropped misdemeanour battery charges against Joyce Latricia Bradley of Pasadena Lakes Elementary School in Pembroke Pines, Florida, court records show. Although the Broward County school district where Bradley works prohibits corporal punishment, the Herald reported that she was allowed to return to the classroom.
This month, audio recordings from a device attached to a boy's backpack captured two women aggressively criticising their special-education students in sometimes vulgar terms. The Herald identified the women as Bradley and a teacher at the school.
"Nobody should talk to a child like that, especially autistic children," Miriam Adar, who sent the recorder to school with her 6-year-old son, Ezra, told The Washington Post. "They need extra, extra patience."
The school district did not respond to requests for comment, but it told television news station WSVN-7 that the teacher and the teacher's aide have been reassigned while the district conducts its own investigation.
"Upon becoming aware of allegations involving a teacher and teacher's aide, school administrators took swift action and immediately removed the employees from the classroom," the district said in a statement to WSVN-7, which was first to report the story. "School administration followed proper protocol and contacted all appropriate agencies, including the district's special investigation unit."
The Washington Post was unable to reach Bradley and the teacher for comment.
In September 2014, a misbehaving 10-year-old student used a marker on Bradley's shirt, prosecutors alleged in court records. Bradley then took the marker and hit the boy's shoulder with it three times, causing bruises, the records say. Prosecutors charged Bradley with simple assault, a misdemeanor, but dropped the case a few months later.
Corporal punishment is legal in public schools in 19 states, most of which are in the South. About 1 936 students in Florida received corporal punishment in the 2013-14 school year, the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education. Students with disabilities are disproportionately likely to be punished physically, according to a study conducted in Tennessee in 2018.
Victor Vieth, director of education and research at the Minnesota-based Zero Abuse Project, said students who receive corporal punishment are more likely to show aggression, behave antisocially and have problems in school.
"In the short term, it might work," Vieth said. "If you want to stop the child's misbehavior in the next five minutes, there's nothing more effective than inflicting pain. . . . Long term, the child is more likely to have negative behaviors."
Florida law requires a school principal to approve corporal punishment before it is used, and another adult must be present when it happens. Parents have the right to be told in writing the reason for their children's punishment and the name of the other adult in the room. Although a state bill introduced in February to prohibit corporal punishment failed, individual school districts can ban it.
The audio recording from Pasadena Lakes this month, reported WSVN-7, captures the women's comments to their seven students with autism.
"Drag your a-- over there," one woman says in the recording. "Watch me. Try me."
And: "You better not touch me or scratch me, you understand? You're getting a diaper change!"
And: "Why are you not doing your work? Why are you not doing your work? Go to timeout. Go to timeout."
Keyla Concepcion, a spokeswoman for the Broward County Sheriff's Office, said authorities are investigating on behalf of the state Department of Children and Families. Pembroke Pines police spokeswoman Amanda Conwell said that her department was "aware of the allegations of child abuse made at Pasadena Lakes Elementary" and that no arrests had been made.
Adar, of Fort Lauderdale, said she and her husband, Matt, had noticed Ezra becoming more aggressive throughout the school year. When Ezra started cursing, Adar said she asked his teachers whether anything was wrong and sent his therapist to observe the class. The teachers had not noticed any problems, they told Adar, but they would keep an eye out.
Then, Adar's mostly nonverbal son said the name of one of his teachers while he was cursing. The Adars suddenly understood.
They sent Ezra to school with an AngelSense device that serves as a GPS tracker and audio recorder for children who have special needs. The dialogue the device captured disturbed them. They gave the recording to the school's principal, Adar said, and called the Department of Children and Families.
Then, things changed: The teacher and teacher's aide were removed from the classroom. Ezra transferred to another school in the district. Other students moved to other schools or other classrooms at Pasadena Lakes. The superintendent met with upset parents.
The Adars created a petition to allow video and audio surveillance in Florida's special-education classrooms, where recording currently is illegal. Texas, Georgia and West Virginia have laws that allow or require surveillance in special-education classrooms.
Matt Adar said he wanted to create another layer of accountability for students with autism, many of whom are unable to speak up for themselves.
"How would we know if anything is going wrong in school?" he said. "We would have no idea. This is our way of speaking for them."