Yes, you read that title right.
Back in January, Evelyn Towry, an autistic third grader living in Idaho, just wanted to wear her cow hoodie1 and go to a birthday party and eat cake with her fellow students. Her teacher decided, for reasons that remain nebulous, that Evelyn wouldn’t be allowed to go until she took off her hoodie. Evelyn didn’t want to, so her teacher left her in a classroom with two staffers to guard her. She decided she wanted to leave, and a ‘scuffle’ ensued when the staffers tried to restrain her.
It ended with Evelyn’s arrest. For battery. The school claims that she ‘inappropriately touched’ the staff members who attempted to prevent her from leaving the classroom. Now, Evelyn and her parents are suing the school and the sheriff’s department. The suit is using the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) as grounds, arguing that the school denied accommodations for Evelyn.
Just for reference, here is the dreaded cow hoodie:
(Image via Popehat)
Clearly a menace to public decency and birthday cakes everywhere!
I am trying to imagine, here, on what planet an eight year old girl could reasonably be arrested for battery. This case is a pretty classic example of a situation where people obviously lacked adequate training and compassion, and a little girl suffered for it. I have no idea why the teacher felt so strongly about Evelyn’s hoodie, but I see no reason that she should have been barred from going to a birthday party simply because she wanted to keep her jacket on. If there had been a situation where it was appropriate to separate her from her fellow students and make her wait in a classroom with school staff members, surely those staff members should have been provided with the training to sit in the classroom with her without ending up in a physical altercation; Evelyn may have had a meltdown, may well have been ‘flailing,’ but to say that she was ‘inappropriately touching’ staff members stretches the boundaries of believability.
And the sheriff’s department most certainly should not have taken Evelyn into custody when they responded to the school’s call. They should have politely informed the school that taking terrified children to the police station is not within their job description, and that the school should call her parents, if anyone, to address the issue.
Spring Towry said she got to the school Friday just in time to see 54-pound Evelyn — who was diagnosed at age 5 with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism2 — being walked to a police car with two officers at her side.
“She started screaming ‘Mommy, I don’t want to go! What are batteries? What are batteries?'” Towry said. “She didn’t even know what she was arrested for.” (source)
Being taken into police custody is traumatic enough when you do understand what is going on. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for Evelyn, who was probably off balance and upset already because her routines were disturbed. The prosecutor put the kibosh on the case, so Evelyn won’t be going to court to answer these utterly absurd charges, but what if the prosecutor had suspended all rational thought and gone ahead with it? Can you imagine her in court, responding to these charges? Perhaps the prosecutor would have offered a plea deal.
I have said it before, and I will keep saying it:
Teachers who have received no training in working with disabled students shouldn’t be assigned to classrooms with disabled students, yet they are.
It’s notable that the staff members restrained Evelyn hard enough to leave bruises and yet they are not being charged with battery.
ETA: After this post went up, The Seattle Times published an article indicating that Evelyn Towry’s individual education plan (IEP), in addition to being drafted without input from her or her family, ‘included police intervention as a course of action if the child misbehaved.’