School district looks at new policy after aide pushes autistic teen out of classroom

Posted at 10:15 PM, Oct 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-04 00:15:20-04

TOOELE COUNTY, Utah -- The Tooele School District is implementing a new policy that will dictate how much force a teacher can use in the classroom, and the move comes after the parents of an autistic teen were outraged to learn an aide pushed him out of a classroom at Stansbury High School back in February.

The teen’s mother, Kelly Fergusson, said the incident has harmed her son.

“He doesn't feel safe,” she said. “He’s afraid to be around the special education teachers and he shouldn`t feel that way.”

Months later, the high school hallways look a little different now to Stansbury High School sophomore Ethan Fergusson, who now takes most classes at his home in Tooele.

According to his parents, the 15 year old doesn't like to go back to school and revisit the incident caught on camera, which the Fergussons said shows a school aide pushing him out of the classroom.

“We don't treat our son that way,” Fergusson said. “And now, after this entire year we have a son who now flinches.”

Following several complaints to the school, the Fergussons were told the aide was following state guidelines. However, when the couple demanded a better explanation from the district, they found they had no answer because the school had no policy to address it.

Tooele County Superintendent Scott Rogers said the lack of a policy is changing.

“The policy is being addressed actually because our teachers are asking for guidance,” he said

Rogers made drafting a policy a top priority after learning there wasn’t one in place.

“There are times when intervention is appropriate, and we need to train our staff,” Rogers said.

The proposed new policy dictates force can be used in certain situations to protect a child, remove a violent or disruptive child, or to protect property.

“What we want to make sure of is physical force is not used until we've used positive behavior intervention, we've tried everything up until that point,” said Hal Strain, special education director for Tooele County.

While the Fergussons think the work is a step in the right direction, they don't believe a policy that uses force and restraint has a place in the classroom.

“I think you should treat, especially treat other people's children, at least as well if not better than your own,” Aaron Fergusson said.

The Tooele County School Board has read the policy once at their public meeting in September. They have a second reading next week and another one in November, after which the board will likely vote on the policy.