Parents of special needs students say school district covered up abuse

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By Julie Peterson, CNN

(CNN) Slammed into lockers, isolated in darkened schoolrooms, vulgar language by a teacher - it was just another day at school for special needs student Alex Williams.
Recently released court documents say Alex, who has cerebral palsy, was routinely abused by teacher Melanie Pickens at Atlanta-area Hopewell Middle   School between 2006-2007. Despite extensive abuse of Alex and other students that was substantiated by a Fulton County School district investigation in 2007, no charges have been filed against teacher Melanie Pickens or then-Principal Frances Boyd. None of Pickens’ special needs students had the verbal abilities to tell anyone they were being physically and emotionally hurt.
You might expect that documented child abuse, in a public school, with many reports by teachers, school nurses, and staff, would automatically result in criminal charges ---at least against the teacher actually doing the abusing.
    Parents of Melanie Pickens’ former students say: Think again.
    The way the Williams family learned of their son’s mistreatment was circuitous and indirect, according to Lisa and Doug Williams of Atlanta suburb Alpharetta. The parents of another student, Jake Marshall, informed the Williams, according to court documents released earlier this year. That’s because the abuse of student Jake Marshall was the first to be uncovered. Now 19, Jake lives with Angelman Syndrome and is non-verbal.
    Back in 2004, special needs teacher Melanie Pickens taught a class of middle school students, at Hopewell Middle School, in the Atlanta suburb of Milton. She taught in an area of the school called G Hall, which is the section of the school used solely for special needs students.
    In May 2007, another special needs teacher, Susan Tallant, says she found Jake isolated in a room, alone and strapped in a chair. She says it was obvious he’d been there a long time, because he was covered in his feces. “He had defecated and actually gotten it everywhere. All over him, all over the chair he was sitting in, all over the floor,” Tallant said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Julie Peterson.
    Tallant’s colleagues discouraged her from reporting what she’d seen. They told me "I could say something to the higher-ups but nothing would ever get done,” Tallant says.
    Tallant wrote-up the Jake Marshall incident. Her written report forced a formal investigation commissioned by the Fulton County School District. “I was just doing my job,” Tallant told CNN.
    Outside investigation firm BDI was hired by the Fulton County School District immediately following the May incident. Recently released court documents reported BDI’s conclusions. BDI found that many teachers and school nurses made verbal reports about Pickens’ treatment of students but nothing had been done. Judge Kimberly Schroer’s decision in the Williams case states that Pickens’ abuse “was known and reported by the G Hall staff, but that Boyd refused to act on their reports.”
    A principal is required to report allegations of child abuse under Georgia law.
    Watch the rest of the story:
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    Court documents say the investigation uncovered that from 2004-2007, teacher Pickens had been doing many violent things to her students: slamming one boy into lockers face-first nearly every day, screaming at the children, pressing her breasts in students’ faces, hitting them, and calling the students vulgarities. In one incident, the report said Pickens even sprayed a girl with Lysol after the student passed gas.
    Both teacher Pickens and Principal Boyd lost their Georgia teaching certifications, says the Professional Standards Commission’s John Grant. Pickens was gone immediately from the school, in the summer of 2007, and Boyd was taken out of her principal position and put in a school job that allowed her to use up her paid and unpaid leave, retiring with her pension in 2008. In surrendering her certification, Boyd said she did not violate the Code of Ethics in any way.
    Boyd now is an adjunct teacher of education at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, CNN has learned.
    Pickens has denied the abuse, in court documents, and Boyd has stated that she actually reported the abuse to the Fulton County School District’s Personnel department and was told not to fire Pickens. Neither Pickens nor Boyd has applied to have their teaching certifications renewed.
    Neither Pickens nor Boyd nor their lawyers would accept our invitation to provide comment for this story, citing pending litigation.
    In the course of the district-commissioned investigation, Jake Marshall’s parents were interviewed in 2007- they say this was the first clue to them that something was amiss. The school system still hadn’t told them anything, the parents say. The Marshalls then began a two-year process of trying to obtain documents of what happened to their son. This eventually resulted in the Marshalls filing a complaint against the Fulton County School District. The complaint was resolved, and agreement details are confidential.
    Judy Marshall, mother of Jake, called Lisa Williams, mother of Alex, to let her know what she learned from the 2007 district investigation. Williams learned that her son Alex, who has cerebral palsy, was hurt by Pickens nearly every day. This explained changes in his behavior--- like refusing t