A day after the posting of a video of a teacher’s aide slapping a nine-year-old boy in special education on the face while onlookers laughed, a California Department of Education investigator showed up unannounced Thursday at the Antioch special education school where the incident occurred.
Without the video, the immediate investigation would likely never have happened, said parents of special education students, lawyers and advocates, who say they have brought numerous complaints of harmful and unlawful practices used on special education students at the Antioch school, Tobinworld 2, and other special education settings. But in large measure, they said, they have been unable to improve oversight or stop practices they called physically and emotionally damaging.
“There were no videos, so parents couldn’t prove that it had happened,” said Maggie Roberts of Disability Rights California, the state’s watchdog organization. The incident portrayed in the video “definitely fits in with our concern that the state and the district are not having enough oversight” over special education schools that rely heavily on the practice of physically restraining students, which she said Tobinworld II does.
The state investigator arrived at Tobinworld II at 9 a.m., spent all day there and will return on Friday, a Tobinworld staff member confirmed.
The video was reportedly filmed by another classroom aide, who then posted it on Snapchat. It was later posted on Facebook and Twitter. As a female teacher’s aide slapped the boy, two others in the classroom held him horizontally in the air. The footage also included images of the aide throwing objects at the student, pushing a red cup onto the top of his head and wrestling him to the ground.
Antioch police arrested teacher’s aide Kamaljot Kaur, 26, of Antioch, on Wednesday. On Thursday, Tobinworld announced Kaur was fired.
“As a result of the video and subsequent arrest Wednesday, the California Department of Education is launching a formal investigation into Tobinworld II and whether the school again meets our state certification requirements,” the department said in a statement.
“We are horrified by the recent event at our Tobinworld II campus and will not tolerate the mistreatment or abuse of any child,” said Tobinworld executive director Judith Weber-Israel in a statement. “The actions depicted are deplorable and unacceptable.
“We contacted law enforcement as soon as we became aware of the event,” she said. She added, “We are continuing to assist law enforcement with the criminal investigation in every way possible, including reviewing the actions of other staff who tolerated these crimes or may have been involved in any way.”
The boy in the video is enrolled in the Oakland Unified School District but receives special education services at Tobinworld 2. Isaac Kos-Read, a spokesman for Oakland Unified, said the district is in touch with the student, his family and an additional 12 Oakland Unified students who attend Tobinworld II “to work with them on their options.”
“The actions in the video are horrible and unacceptable,” Kos-Read said in an email. “They in no way reflect our values and commitment to ensure that every student thrives.”
Tobinworld II is a private school that receives public funding for educating special education students, including those with autism and emotional disturbances, that school districts cannot serve. The Tobinworld organization now runs six campuses — one named Tobinworld in Glendale in Southern California, and five in Antioch. They are Tobinworld II, Tobinworld III, A & T Preschool Academy, KT Academy and DVT Academy. The academies opened in summer 2015 and are housed on Antioch Unified School District campuses.
Roberts at Disability Rights California said her group had received at least five complaints about Tobinworld II since 2013 from parents who say their children have been hit, pinched, painfully squeezed on the wrist and subject to excessive use of physical restraints that pin students to the floor, wall or chair. The parents’ complaints to Tobinworld staff and school district officials were ignored, she said.
This is not the first investigation of Tobinworld. In response to a citizen complaint, the California Department of Education made unannounced visits to Tobinworld II and III a year ago — on Jan. 16 and 17, 2015 — and found that the schools were employing behavioral analysts with expired certifications and teachers without the required credentials to teach students with certain disabilities. The school also failed to conduct appropriate background checks on staff and did not comply with state regulations that require behavior plan reviews after staff members have physically restrained students or isolated them in rooms they cannot leave, the investigation found.
In addition, the investigators found that the schools were employing Matthew Israel, a leading proponent of “aversive therapies,” including hitting, pinching and spraying water on students to change their behavior. His most controversial practice is administering painful electric skin shocks to students, which he instituted at the Judge Rotenberg Center school in Canton, Mass. Israel, who is married to Weber-Israel, the founder of Tobinworld, was working as a behavior analyst or administrator without being listed on the schools’ applications for state certification, as required by the California Education Code, the state investigation found.
As a result, the California Department of Education temporarily suspended the certification of Tobinworld II and Tobinworld III effective Aug. 24, 2015, a status that prohibited the schools from accepting new referrals from school districts.
On Dec. 16, less than a month ago, the state paid a follow-up unannounced visit to Tobinworld II and Tobinworld III and “observed the operations of the school, interviewed school staff and checked on documentation” associated with certification by the state. On Dec. 22, 2015, the state declared Tobinworld II and III certified, saying the school had taken the “required corrective actions” and “met the requirements of special education law.”