A Hollywood teacher could lose her job after being accused of locking an autistic child in a chair for two hours, and improperly managing several other special-needs children.
The School Board moved Tuesday to suspend without pay Vivia Bromfield, an elementary school teacher at Stirling Elementary. It's at least the fourth time in 2012 that a teacher or aide in Broward County has faced discipline for allegedly mistreating an autistic child.
School district officials say Bromfield in April strapped a 9-year-old student into a "Rifton chair," a special activity and learning chair typically used for wheelchair bound students, but for no more than 15 minutes. The child was able to sit normally at a desk and chair, according to a complaint.
Bromfield, an eight-year teacher who couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, had said she temporarily placed the student in the chair so he could benefit from individual attention as he colored.
The complaint said she left another child in a similar situation earlier in the year, and on another occasion left two special-needs children for 70 minutes inside devices designed to help them stand. One was not positioned correctly and suffered a mild seizure.
The teacher also failed to monitor her students throughout the year, leaving hot beverages on the tables, providing crayons to students who could consume them and providing sippy cups to students incapable of using them, the complaint alleged.
Superintendent Robert Runcie has recommended she be fired, but she has the right to a state hearing.
Dane Ramson, a staff representative for the Broward Teachers Union, called the punishment "extremely harsh."
"She is the sweetest lady; this is why we lose good teachers," said Ramson, who called unfounded the charges of immorality, misconduct in office, gross insubordination, willful neglect of duties, and moral turpitude.
The discipline comes four weeks after a bus attendant and driver were fired for an incident involving an autistic child. School cameras showed bus attendant Daryl Blue choking a boy. He's been charged with aggravated child abuse.
In August, a special education teacher at Crystal Lakes Middle School was suspended without pay after she allegedly called autistic students "animals," "monkeys" and "criminals" and unplugged the battery cord of a student's wheelchair. Her case is expected to be heard soon by an administrative law judge.
Also in August, David Michael Baier, a teacher at the private Alternative Education Foundation, or AEF, School was charged with two counts of physical child abuse for allegedly pulling a 12-year-old autistic boy's hair and throwing him onto the floor. The criminal case is pending, and a civil suit has also been filed against the school.
"Right now a lot of schools are in situations where they have a lack of resources, a lack of training and they have a lot of students and they are just trying to get through their school day," said Cindy Smith, of the National Disabilities Rights.
Despite several cases that have received public attention, Broward School Police Chief David Golt said they are rare.
Mitch Spero, a licensed psychologist and the director of Child & Family Psychologists in Plantation and Weston, said teachers and administrators are likely to mistreat their kids when they feel burned out.
"People that work in special needs tend to be dedicated, impassioned and really care about the kids," he said.
But if they become emotionally exhausted, their behavior can change, he said. "Their jobs are some of the most stressful jobs. We should get them the help they need."
In Palm Beach County. Phyllis Musumeci filed a federal lawsuit in 2010 alleging her autistic son was restrained 89 times during a 14-month period without her knowledge, causing him to be detached, sad and aggressive. The case is still pending.
The School Board changed its policies in 2011, requiring that restraints be used on special-needs children as a last resort. Broward schools follow state guidelines, a spokeswoman said.
Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
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