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Polk County

Girl with autism slapped, pinched, pinned by teacher, says mom planning lawsuit

BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) - She shielded her face to protect her daughter, but shared her story to be her voice.  A mom from Polk County says her little girl is scarred forever after what happened at Jean O'Dell Learning Center in Bartow.

"If your heart tells you something Is wrong, it's wrong," said the mom.

She is both heartbroken and horrified by the events she says took place beginning last October.

Her 12-year-old daughter has autism and is non-verbal. So, when the child came home from school repeatedly, says the mom, with bruises and marks, the family wanted answers.

"The thing that hurt me the most, the way her comfort zone was shattered. She was no longer comfortable after that. She was no longer herself," the mother said.

There were other big changes the mom noticed. 

Her child woke up screaming all the time, was suddenly aggressive and extremely attached. The mother began asking questions, going to the school and demanding to know what was happening.

This went on, according to the mom, for weeks and weeks with no answers and no resolution.

Then, in January, a call came from her daughter's principal.

It was a phone call the mom will never forget.

The child's teacher and teacher's aide were under arrest. The teacher's aide was charged with child abuse. The teacher was arrested for failing to report the information. 

The mom dropped the phone and raced to her pick up her daughter. She had one question for her daughter's school leaders.

"What right do you have to do that?  Especially to a child that's non-verbal and can't defend themselves," she said.

For now, the case is winding its way through the court system. 

Meanwhile, Polk school leaders are not talking, telling WFLA they can't comment on pending cases. 

The mother says she was told her daughter can get counseling with a specialist in the school system. 

The waiting list for that program is 18 months.


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