JaVohn Perry is upset, frustrated and wants answers.
As she sees it, how could her 11-year-old autistic boy, JaMar Taylor, be locked out of his school, left unsupervised to wander around in the cold for about 15 minutes trying repeatedly to get back in?
To Perry, the Dec. 14 incident at Kent’s Springbrook Elementary School was unacceptable and negligent.
Perry claims her son, who participates in the school’s special education program, was singled out, ignored and endangered on that Friday morning. She said during a Feb. 2 rally of supporters that the ordeal has traumatized her son, who was suspended and no longer attends the school.
“The district as a whole should take responsibility and accountability of what happened,” Perry said of the episode, played out on school security footage that went viral on social media. “I’m angry. I’m sad. I think the principal should be terminated.”
The Kent School District has since placed the principal, Ashlie Short, on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. The school district, which said the action was not disciplinary, released the following statement:
“Our shared focus remains on our core business of teaching and learning, with an emphasis on learning. As the process continues, we are not able to share any details about the investigation, related complaint or personnel matters and will not comment further as this is a personnel issue and an active investigation.”
Taylor is a high-functioning autistic boy with related behavioral issues, his mother said. Perry is upset that administration, including Short, didn’t notify her about the incident until her son described it to her. She then requested video footage from the school’s surveillance system. The family also complained about the incident at a Jan. 9 school board meeting
According to a report filed with Kent Police, Short explained to officers that the boy assaulted her and a teacher, necessitating a “modified lockdown” to protect other students and to avoid physically restraining him. Short also said the boy was monitored for the 12 minutes he was outside the school.
Kent Police posted on its Facebook page: “We have conducted an investigation into the initial incident and based on the available information, we did not find evidence of a crime. The Kent School District is aware of the incident and are following their procedures for reviewing what happened.”
Perry’s attorney, Damario Solomon-Simmons, is considering trying to get charges filed for child neglect and endangerment if the Kent School District “doesn’t step up, take responsibility and do the right thing.”
Solomon-Simmons – a civil rights lawyer and motivational speaker from Tulsa, Okla. – said the incident involving the Kent boy is one of the most egregiously cases he has seen of child neglect at the school level.
“(Perry) entrusted her baby to professionals to care for him,” Solomon-Simmons said. “Not only did they fail to do that, they tried to cover it up, and they have not taking responsibility. … What I get from the family is a real sense of hurt, that this should never of had happened.”
Solomon-Simmons joined Perry’s family and their supporters for a small rally in the Cascade Hall at Green River College in Auburn on Feb. 2, calling for the school district to explain and rectify the incident and to reexamine its policies and procedures.
“This is important to us,” Perry said of the rally. “We want to shine a light that this stuff happens in the school district. We don’t other students to be treated this way.”
The rally also raised awareness of autism and the need for schools to improve special education support and services.
Shannon Jephson-Hernandez, a science teacher at Mill Creek Middle School and a mother of a 12-year-old autistic boy, said more needs to be done to embrace and help students with learning challenges.
Schools, she added, should be trusted to keep students safe and properly supervised.
“JaMar’s family set him to school every day believing and trusting that this system would protect him, but instead this system failed him,” she said. “This is not a single, justifiable reason for anyone to lock a child out of their room or out of the school. If a child, for some reason, is a threat to others, there are adults there to watch, protect and oversee the safety of all, including the safety of that child.”
Speaking at the rally, Ken Smith, an accounting professor at Central Washington University in Ellensburg who researches school district governance, claims that the Kent School District’s finances are a mess and its polices outdated.
“It’s a sad form of neglect, and when adults don’t do their job, kids get hurt,” Smith said. “Sadly, the Kent board and Kent superintendent have not done their jobs around policy. They have not done their job around money, and kids, like JaMar, are sadly getting hurt and a lot of kids are at risk of getting hurt as well.”