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Mother says her autistic son was put in bag as discipline at school

From Kiran Khalid, CNN
updated 6:45 PM EST, Wed December 28, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Kentucky mother says she was called to her son's school
  • She found her 9-year-old autistic son in a net bag, she says
  • The boy had been put in the bag as punishment, the woman says
  • School officials say "the matter is being handled"

(CNN) -- A Kentucky woman says special education teachers put her autistic 9-year-old son inside a net ball bag as punishment at his school.

The mother, Sandra Baker, told CNN Monday that she was called to her son's elementary school on December 14, because he was being unruly.

"I saw a big green bag with the drawstring pulled and the (teacher's) aide sitting next to him," Baker said. "As I approached the bag, I heard Christopher say, 'Who's out there?' "

The head of Mercer County public schools did not directly address Baker's accusations in a statement, but Superintendent Dennis Davis acknowledged that, "The Mercer County School District is aware of recent reports of conduct directed by staff toward a student in one of our schools."

Citing federal and state confidentiality laws regarding students, David said the district could not confirm or deny "the specific allegations which are being raised in the public."

But he added, "Upon learning of the allegations, the school system reviewed the incident immediately, and the matter is being handled consistently with School District policies and with State and Federal law."

"The employees of the Mercer County Public Schools are qualified professionals who treat students with respect and dignity while providing a safe and nurturing learning environment," the statement added.

Baker, meanwhile, said Monday that she was stunned to arrive at the school to find her son trapped in a bag.

Baker said the bag was made of net and, in addition to her son, it contained dozens of small plastic balls like the ones found in inflatable bounce houses for children.

She said she demanded that her son be removed from the bag immediately, and she became more alarmed to see the aide struggle with the tied knot to free the boy.

"That shook me up because what if he had gotten sick in there, or there would have been an emergency and no one could get him out?" Baker said. Her son emerged from the bag "sweaty and scared," Baker told CNN. She added that her son, who is in the school's program for autistic children, may not have known whether he was being punished or was participating in a "game" of some sort.

Baker said she and her husband met with school officials the day after the incident, but she said the couple has no choice other than to return their son to the same school after the holiday break.

The incident has led to an online petition on a website calling on the school district to fire the teacher or teachers responsible and to institute a comprehensive training program in the school district. More than 10,000 people scattered through all 50 states endorsed the petition during the weekend, according to the website Change.org.

New study suggests autism starts in the womb

The alleged incident in central Kentucky also has ignited the outrage of advocates for autism awareness.

"People with autism are especially vulnerable, and some may either be unaware that they are being mistreated or may be unable to effectively communicate that mistreatment has occurred," said Lisa Goring, vice president of the organization Autism Speaks.

"It's critical that we do everything possible to prevent mistreatment and abuse, by arming parents and children with key safety information, as well as improving our ability to detect and report any instance of wrongdoing."

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