Parents of special needs children fight myriad battles, but one of the most challenging is ensuring that their kids do not lead lives of isolation.
So you can imagine how Chicago resident Nyesha Terry felt when she dropped by her son’s classroom on the second day of school last month and found him isolated in the classroom from his fellow students, wearing a black garbage bag over his clothing like a poncho.
Five-year-old Lloyd Terry is non-verbal and epileptic, which often causes saliva to drop onto his clothing, his mother said. Nyesha Terry said that even though she provides several pairs of clothes and extra bibs for her son, his teacher opted to use a plastic bag to deal with his saliva instead.
Her son couldn’t express it to her, but the result, Terry said, was utter humiliation.
“He can’t come home and say, ‘This happened at school today, Mommy,’ ” Terry told The Washington Post. “It was heartbreaking to see my child separated from the other students and wearing a trash bag.”
Heartbreak turned to frustration when Terry dropped by the school again the next day and found him clad in another trash bag, in a distant part of the room. She already had spoken to his teacher the day before, she said, reminding her about the extra clothes and even offering to pack disposable gloves for the teacher. She thought they were on the same page and said couldn’t believe what she was witnessing.
“I was definitely furious,” Terry said. “I just felt like at that point it had gotten to be too much. I felt really disrespected.”
Lloyd’s teacher offered to take the trash bag off, but his mother opted to leave it on him before marching to the school office to file a complaint. Photos were taken to document the incident and Terry explained that a teacher at her son’s previous school had no problem changing his clothing and attaching a new bib during the day. After listening to her complaints, Terry said she received another shock when administrators asked her whether the bag’s appearance was what bothered her about the situation.
“I said, ‘It has nothing to do with how it looks!’ ” Terry recalled. “He could put the bag in his mouth, he could swallow part of it or he could suffocate because of the bag. He’s isolated and I’m concerned for his safety.”
Later, Terry said, another school official informed her that nowhere in the school’s guidelines is it written that a teacher cannot put a trash bag on a student.
The school district released the following statement to The Post:
“Chicago Public Schools’ top priority is ensuring students are safe and comfortable in their learning environment. The teacher has been removed from the classroom while we conduct an investigation, and we will take all appropriate steps, including appropriate disciplinary actions.”
After her son’s story received local media coverage, Terry said, district officials sat down with her and asked how she could be accommodated. She asked them to have her son transferred to another school. On Friday, officials accompanied her on several school tours; on Monday, Lloyd started his first day at a new elementary school.
Terry said CPS officials acted graciously and she’s hopeful that the new school will be a much better fit.
As she dropped Lloyd off at his new classroom, he held onto her legs and looked hesitant, his mother said. She believes the trash bag incident has left him uneasy about being in a classroom environment. Had it continued, she said, he could have been traumatized.
“I hope when people hear my story they understand we need better programs for special needs children,” she said. “These children already feel as though they’re not a part of everyone else and I just really want all special needs kids to feel like they’re a part of the school environment.”