UNION COUNTY, N.C. -- Debbie Tomlinson is demanding answers, wanting to know why Union County school officials called deputies on her 11-year-old autistic child, who was headed to school.
She was told “Kassie’s” behavior Tuesday morning made the ride “unsafe” for the driver to continue.
Tomilson was called to a nearby subdivision, where she was asked to pick up her child, five minutes into the hour-long bus ride.
The mother of three adopted Kassie when she was 4-years-old. Kassie is autistic and mentally disabled, unable to communicate with words.
Due to Kassie’s history of acting out against drivers and their aide, Tomlinson made sure staff and teachers at Wolfe School were informed about her past behavior.
The three page letter, written as if Kassie was having a conversation with staff, included the following paragraphs:
“Last year I got into the habit of attacking the bus driver and the helper in the morning when I got on the bus and sometimes I wouldn’t be happy about getting off the bus when we got to school. I did stop after about a month and then really enjoyed getting on the bus.”
“I don’t have to wear that special seat belt on the bus but understand that if “I’m possessed” (as my mom says) they might need to put it on me to keep everyone safe.”
“When she is good, it’s wonderful. She wants hugs and laughs. At her worst, it’s hair pulling, biting, scratching, pinching,” she explained.
Tomlinson doesn’t deny how Kassie may have acted toward staff, but disagrees in how it was handled. She says a “borrowed” restraint was used for the ride home Monday, but she was not put into one when she got on the bus the next day.
“I told her (staff) yesterday afternoon, if she needs it, put it on her and you decide,” said Tomlinson.
Special needs students are evaluated every year to determine their specific needs. Before transferring to Wolfe School, the IEP team, made up of parents, teachers and district staff, determined Kassie requires a special handicap bus with an aide on board. The report also stated an “appropriate restraint system or seat belt, as needed,” is required.
Union County Spokesperson Rob Jackson explains “behavior interventions” are dictated by the Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Tomlinson asks why then was a restraint not used.
“There was no explanation, none,” she said. She is left to believe a harness wasn’t an option.
“If they don’t have a harness on the school bus before school begins on the first day, they are not meeting her needs and putting others at risk, including herself,” she said.
Jackson said he could not respond to matters involving an individual student or their IEP’s because it is protected, confidential information.
The mother believes the district failed to properly train staff. She hopes this incident serves as a “lesson,” that extra caution and communication is needed when dealing with special needs students.
“I wouldn’t want my child on the bus when the bus driver and monitor don’t know what to do and asks the parent what do we do?”
NBC Charlotte also reached out to the State Department of Education and found out while there are no rules in place on just how many harnesses are required on each bus, one must be in place if the student’s IEP requires it.