ATLANTA (CN) - An Atlanta school district failed to intervene after staff and administrators became aware that a teacher was a serial abuser of disabled students, a child's parents claim in court.
Douglas and Lisa Williams sued the Fulton County School District, the allegedly abusive teacher Melanie Pickens, and a long list of school administrators and faculty, in Federal Court.
Among the litany of allegations, the Williamses say Pickens sprayed Lysol on a child and grabbed a disabled boy so hard by the penis he suffered a penile embolism, and the teacher claimed that "the child was falling in the bathroom so she grabbed the child by his penis to stop him from falling."
The Williamses' son has several disabilities, including cerebral palsy and moderate retardation, but they say he was a happy, social child and progressing in school until he was assigned to the classroom of special education teacher Melanie Pickens.
For the next year, they say in their 146-page lawsuit, their son was "violently and inhumanely abused" by Pickens while district administrators and school faculty stood by, failed to intervene and eventually covered up for her.
Among the 29 individual defendants is Sara Biegelson, an assistant principal at Hopewell Middle School.
"Biegelson was in charge of special education and she knew about the abuse of disabled children by Pickens during the 2006-2007 school year, and she did not inform the GaPSC [Georgia Professional Standards Commission], DFACS [the Division of Family and Children's Services], the FCSD police, any other criminal investigative body, or the parents of the abused disabled children, and after the 2006-2007 school year, Biegelson instructed Hopewell employees not to reveal the abuse to anyone, including parents, which caused Alex and other disabled children further harm," according to the complaint.
The focal point of the Williams' allegations is Pickens herself.
From January to May 2002, the Williamses say, Pickens' was employed as a student teacher in the district, and her performance was deemed unsatisfactory in numerous ways. So bad was she in the classroom, the Williamses claim, that "Pickens' college coordinator reported in writing that she would not employ Pickens as a teacher for her own child."
Despite being informed in writing of these deficiencies, the school district hired Pickens to teach disabled children with moderate, severe, or profound mental impairment, the Williamses say.
From the start of her career as a special ed teacher with the school district, the parents claim, "Pickens was very rough with the disabled children at Holcomb Bridge [Middle School], and she yanked the children around, she screamed and yelled at them, she pulled at least one child's ear, she pulled at least one child's hair, and she placed disabled children alone in the bathroom in the dark."
The Williamses claims that when the mother of one of Pickens' students complained, her child was removed from Pickens' class. But the district kept Pickens on, even after it received recommendations that her contract not be renewed, the Williamses say.
They say that for several summers Pickens was assigned to work with disabled students and that in at least one case, she was "very physically rough with a disabled child and harmed the child. Because of Pickens' abuse of the disabled child during the summer, FCSD insisted Pickens take an anger management course, which Pickens did not take."