DAA News Network

United States: Teacher who abused disabled children can't be sacked

Posted 07/9-09 at 11.43

A special education teacher who was found to have abused her students will not lose her job in Sarasota County, Florida.

Diana O'Neill, arrested on charges of child abuse, had subsequently been acquitted in court.Nonetheless, the school district, moved to dismiss her, maintaining that she had been found not guilty only because the court demanded a high burden of proof.

The school district argued that, "Her misconduct included frequent excessively rough treatment such as hitting students on or about their heads, both with her hands and with numerous other objects; kicking, and pinching, and pushing students; roughly feeding and cleaning students; using therapy tools in appropriate ways; and repeatedly verbally disparaging the students."

Ms O'Neill herself admitted that she had said to another adult about one of her students, "All she's doing there is sitting there sucking up oxygen". In her defence, she said that the student did not have a sufficient grasp of the language to have understood what she said.

At a formal hearing, the arbitrator held that the teacher could not be dismissed because the proper procedures had not been followed. However, he concluded, "It is true that Ms O'Neill committed insubordination because she hit, hurt and mistreated students - especially Tara - roughly in ways unrelated to the learning process. It is also true that a contributing factor to the pattern of abuse was a failure of the District to monitor, intercede, and timely apply progress of discipline when needed."

Instead of losing her job, Ms O'Neill will be issued with two written reprimands and a four-week suspension. She will also have to undergo counselling.

To get a full and rather disturbing insight into what went on in this special school, it is worth reading the full transcript of the arbitration. This can be found at a link supplied in the newspaper report on the case:


it is interesting to note, In light of the recent report on corporal punishment of disabled children in the United States, mentioned in our September newsletter, that Sarasota is one of the Florida counties where such punishment is banned.


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