EXCLUSIVE: Mother sues DOE, alleging school tied up autistic son

Published: Feb. 4, 2016 at 3:29 AM HST|Updated: Feb. 4, 2016 at 12:09 PM HST
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PORTLOCK, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The mother of a former Koko Head Elementary School student has sued the Department of Education, alleging staffers improperly restrained her autistic son.

Therese Ricks said she pulled her 6-year-old son Sawyer out of the school last year after seeing his teachers tie him to a chair during his preschool graduation ceremonies.

"It's just a sickening feeling and it's a helpless feeling and a disbelief. So much anger," Ricks said.

Ricks also alleges teachers sometimes didn't allow her son to eat his lunch.

"They withheld food and liquids from him," she said. "One time, he was forced to look through the garbage in the cafeteria while the other students were eating."

The boy's attorney, Eric Seitz, said the restraints weren't part of Sawyer's behavioral plan and that his mother had complained several times but teachers continued to restrain him.

"This is a form of child abuse. Not only should they not have restrained the child but it should have reported it to CPS," Seitz said.

The lawsuit comes several years after parents of special education students at Kipapa Elementary School in Mililani raised similar allegations against staffers there. A lawsuit was recently settled out of court with the state paying about $190,000.

"At this point, it reaches all the way up to the leadership and they are apparently condoning or passively allowing these kinds of practices to occur," Seitz said.

"I've reached the end of the line. I don't have any patience. I'm not going to settle this for nominal damages. It's going to hurt them financially and it has to be coupled with a very clear policy statement that this kind of behavior is forbidden."

The DOE declined comment, citing the pending litigation.

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