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After Student With Autism Hit In Class, Teachers Suspended, CPS Says

By Joe Ward | September 29, 2017 6:29am
 Hendricks Academy
Hendricks Academy
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

FULLER PARK — Two substitute teacher's aides have been suspended after a first-grader with austism was struck by an aide in his special education class at Hendricks Academy, according to Chicago Public Schools.

CPS investigators are looking into the Sept. 19 incident in the autism cluster class at Hendricks Academy, 4316 S. Princeton Ave., according to CPS and the child's mother.

Holley Cornwell-Vaca said she still doesn't know the details of her child being struck, only that her 7-year-old son kicked a staff member, who apparently retaliated.

Cornwell-Vaca said she only learned of the incident after the school's principal called her three days after the fact, and that the school has refused to answer her questions regarding the incident.

"I don't know anything," she said. "These people are trained. My son kicked her; they're supposed to be trained to handle this."

Cornwell-Vaca's son has autism and other cognitive disorders and is nonverbal, she said. He has a high pain tolerance and doesn't necessarily know to communicate that he's hurt. Though her son appeared fine after the incident, Cornwell-Vaca said she didn't know where to check for bruises, since she doesn't know where or how her son was hit.

"It's really sad," she said. "I don't even know what to look for."

The school's principal declined to comment.

CPS has suspended two substitute special education classroom assistants, and their future employment status will be determined by a CPS investigation, a CPS spokesman said.

"Student wellbeing is our top priority, and we take seriously any allegations of student mistreatment," CPS spokesman Michael Passman said in a statement. "After the school reported these alarming allegations, the district barred two special education classroom assistants from working in the district and instituted a thorough investigation into the matter."

Cornwell-Vaca said shes particularly disturbed at the length of time it took the school to notify her and the fact that the school would not initially tell her if the classroom's permanent teacher was involved. (CPS later said it was substitutes.) That information is necessary because she wants to know if her son has been the victim of previous abuse this year.

Her son has been having regular accidents at school, despite having relatively few bathroom issues since he was potty-trained at 4, Cornwell-Vaca said. The issues could be caused by a number of factors, including social stresses, but Cornwell-Vaca wants to make sure it isn't because of any school-related trauma.

"Now that this act of violence against [her son] has come to light, I am concerned that there is someone on staff at Hendricks who may regularly be hurting [her son] and that [his] regression is related to his fear of being abused," Cornwell-Vaca wrote in a letter to school and CPS officials.

In the letter, she asked CPS officials help find her son a different school setting.