8 Investigates: Pasco teacher locks autistic child in dark room

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WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. (WFLA) — A bizarre form of punishment at a Pasco school put a 12-year-old autistic boy at risk, cost two employees their jobs and developed into a child abuse investigation.

In May, Ladonna Phillips was called in to Weightman Middle School in Wesley Chapel. She thought it might have something to do with a big bruise on her son Caleb’s head that he came home with a couple of months earlier. Instead, she was asked what she knew about his teacher locking Caleb in a dark room, alone.

“Absolutely nothing, nothing about it at all. I had never been notified,” said Ladonna. Caleb is autistic and nonverbal. He can sign.

Caleb's mother, Ladonna Phillips talks to 8 On Your Side Investigator Steve Andrews.

Records show a sheriff’s office investigation began February 29th when someone at the school discovered Caleb sitting in a locked dark room at Weightman. He was signing for help.

A Child Protection Investigator (CPI) closed the case April 13th verifying Caleb was a victim of inadequate supervision and maltreatment at the school. But here it was May, nearly four weeks after the investigation closed and Ladonna was just finding out about it.

“I was in shock just trying to process what had happened, why we were there, why we weren’t notified,” she said.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Kevin Doll tells 8 On Your Side, the CPI notified the school principal and thought that the principal would notify the parents. Doll points out there is a policy that the parents of an abuse victim be notified.

“We are doing an internal review because policy was not followed,” he said.

According to the CPI’s report, Caleb’s teachers denied placing him in the room. However “there were 3 witnesses to multiple incidents.”

“It was apparently her way of disciplining him because he squeals a lot,” Ladonna explained.

The teacher, Kimberly Landry and teacher’s aide Christopher Soril were placed on administrative leave during the investigation.

What’s particularly disturbing is Caleb poses a risk to himself when left unsupervised and the school knows it.

The report stated, “it was determined through the investigation that the child is not safe in the care of the teachers…” They “have a history of placing Caleb in the dark room alone with the door closed.”

According to Pasco School District Director of Communications Linda Cobbe, both Landry and Soril resigned.

This all leaves Ladonna wondering about that bruise on Caleb’s head and whether or not he banged his head against the wall during one of the disciplinary lockdowns.

“I don’t know exactly what happened, I don’t know the exact story, I probably never will. He can’t tell me,” she said.WHAT OTHERS ARE CLICKING ON RIGHT NOW:

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