Teacher's Aide Caught on Tape Assaulting Nonverbal Autistic 12-Year-Old Girl

A teacher’s aide in Chesterfield, VA has been accused of assaulting a 12-year-old nonverbal autistic girl. Police say that the girl’s communication isn’t necessary to press charges, because most of the abuse is caught on videotape.

According to police, the tape shows Matoaca Middle School aide Jan Costley grabbing the student by the arms with enough force that there is significant bruising. The sixth-grade girl also has bruising on and around her nose, but they are not sure how that happened. The aide and the student step out of range of the camera during one part of the tape, police say. Police describe the injuries as “deep purple bruising and scratches on the girl’s upper arms.”

Although the videotape is not being released, Chesterfield Police Captain David Pritchard noted that ”there does not appear to be any basis for force to be used on the child.”

Can someone please explain to me what the deal is with these stories of mistreatment and abuse of autistic students? So many of these stories involve not classroom teachers, but one-on-one aides. Given how challenging and frustrating it can be to work with special needs students, do classroom aides receive enough training?

This case also brings up the question of how background checks are done. The classroom aide who has been accused of assaulting the autistic student in this case had a protection order issued against her nine years ago by her own father, who said he feared for his wife’s and his grandson’s safety.

How does someone with a protection order issued against her get a job as an aide? Well, for starters, in the state of Virginia, “permanent” protection orders expire after two years unless an extension is filed. And if the protection order isn’t violated, there’s no criminal record. Also, criminal charges don’t need to be pressed in order to file for a protection order, so Ms. Costley may not have any record at all.

However, news reports indicate that Ms. Costley has been working for the Chesterfield School District since 2003, which means she either had an active protection order against her when she was hired, or received one after she was hired. The aide has been suspended from her job pending the investigation.

In addition to the criminal investigation, a separate Child Protective Services investigation is also underway. Ms. Costley goes to court next month on the criminal charges. If convicted, she faces up to one year in jail and a $25,000 fine.

I know there are amazing classroom and personal care aides out there. I’m good friends with three different moms who do this job with love, care, and passion every day. They all went through thorough background checks and training before they began their jobs; they also receive additional training annually.

I know it’s a hard job. Believe me, I know. I have two high-functioning autistic children, and sometimes interacting with them can be extremely frustrating.  But there is simply no excuse.

Abuse of our most vulnerable children simply cannot be tolerated, and schools need to step up their game when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable children.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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