Gavel and money

RALEIGH — The Wake County school system is paying $450,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a special-education student who say he was illegally physically restrained and secluded.

The family of Shao-Ku Liu, 19, a student at Southeast Raleigh High School, alleges that the Wake County school system violated the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and North Carolina special education statutes. Liu’s family says students with disabilities at Southeast Raleigh High were victims of an abusive teacher who was physically aggressive and improperly isolated the students in a storage room during the 2018-19 school year.

The settlement was announced at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Stacey Gahagan, the family’s attorney, said in a statement Wednesday that the case resulted from “inappropriate actions of the school-level administration regarding the improper actions of the teacher assigned to the classroom.”

“S.L.’s parents firmly believe that placing cameras in the separate classes for students with significant disabilities may prevent, or at least decrease the likelihood, of this type of harm against these students in the future,” Gahagan said.

Gahagan said that staff at Southeast Raleigh High reported to the school administration and to Liu’s’ family that a teacher engaged in an incident of improper aggressive behavior against another disabled student in the classroom. But Gahagan said the teacher was allowed to continue teaching that class.

The teacher “wrote up” the staff who reported the behavior, accusing them of not performing their job duties. They wound up being disciplined by the school, according to Gahagan.

When Liu’s parents noticed multiple bruises on their son’s body, Gahagan said they sent an email with pictures to the school administration and to the district reporting their concerns. But Gahagan said no one contacted parents to investigate the report.

The staff members also reported to Liu’s family and to the school administration that the teacher told them to clean out a storage room to use for seclusion of students with disabilities, Gahagan said.

“The staff members took pictures and videos of the improper use of the seclusion room and provided them to S.L.’s parents,” Gahagan said.

Schools are allowed to seclude students, placing them in a different room from other students, to prevent injury. But they’re not allowed to seclude them solely for disciplinary reasons, according to Disability Rights NC.

School employees are allowed to use physical restraint when reasonably necessary. But Disability Rights NC says that the level of force used can be excessive at times, resulting in serious injuries to students.

Gahagan said that an investigation didn’t begin until after the district’s legal counsel was made aware of the allegations. She said it ultimately resulted in the teacher being removed from the classroom and school administrators reassigned.

“The district was unaware of the allegations prior to the parent’s petition,” Tim Simmons, a Wake school spokesman, said in an email Wednesday. “After the allegations were made, Special Education Services provided mandatory training for all teachers at the school who work with students in self-contained classrooms.”

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