A mother of a 10-year-old boy with special education needs is suing Seattle Public Schools for denying her child an education and for keeping him in what the former principal described as a “cage” in 2019, the lawsuit alleges.
The mother, whom The Washington Post is not naming because she is a domestic violence survivor, is seeking damages to be decided by the court, attorney’s fees and costs, and other relief the court deems equitable.
The lawsuit alleges the school district discriminated against the boy based on his disability and race, and was negligent in protecting him from harm among other claims.
Seth Rosenberg, attorney for the mother, told The Washington Post in an interview Tuesday that the district knew about the tactics of former View Ridge Elementary School principal Ed Roos, but did nothing about it until a groundswell of parents started objecting.
“Ed is gone, but that doesn’t solve all the problems,” Rosenberg said. “The boy, even though he might have a complex educational picture, is still entitled to an education. If the school can’t meet his needs, they have to pay for him to go elsewhere.”
The boy has attention deficit hyperactive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. He also has a sensory, mental or physical disability. He, his mother and other siblings had been experiencing homelessness around the time he started being guarded by the former principal and staff, according to the lawsuit and local reports.
Staff members told public-radio station KUOW in December that the boy was kept in the enclosure because he would leave the school building. His behavior such as throwing tantrums and items, threatening people and running around the school were also commonplace, staff told the news outlet.
According to the lawsuit, the boy would be locked in what Roos called “the cage or whatever we call it,” in full view of students and staff where they would look at him “like an animal in the zoo.” He would be locked up multiple times a day and multiple days out of the week, the complaint alleges.
He would often eat lunch alone in the enclosure, seated on the cold pavement, as no table or desk was provided, the complaint alleges.
Teachers and staff complained to Roos about the child’s treatment, the lawsuit alleges, but they were largely ignored.
Jacquelyn Flaherty, a kindergarten teacher and the only Black instructor at the school, complained directly to Roos, but faced retaliatory action, according to the lawsuit.
Flaherty told KUOW that she was deeply disturbed to see one of the few Black students in the mostly white, affluent area being treated the way the boy was.
She told the custodian holding keys to the enclosure that she was uncomfortable with what she was seeing and had the boy released before she escorted him to her classroom to work on a pillow-sewing project with other students, KUOW reported.
“I have never seen, in all these years, a child being locked into an area like that,” she told the station. “It was like a cage.”
An investigative report by the school district found that Roos instructed custodians to secure the enclosure with chains and padlocks and to secure and lock adjacent doors that essentially cut off access to the school, leaving the boy in a space that he couldn’t leave at his own will, according to the lawsuit.
The enclosure had approval beyond Roos, KUOW found. A district official came up with the idea because the school lacked an isolation room for students, and special education officials approved it, he told the outlet.
The lawsuit alleges that the district “failed to provide statutory and procedurally required notice to [the mother] when isolation and restraint procedures were utilized.”
District spokesman Tim Robinson told KUOW that the person who oversees discipline in the school district would never recommend a young person to be locked in an outdoor space.
Robinson told The Post that because a lawsuit has been filed, the district has no further comment on the case.
Roos remained principal until November, the outlet reported.
Rosenberg said the bus that’s supposed to pick up the boy and transport him to school is unreliable, and the behavior therapist who has volunteered to make sure he gets to school hasn’t been permitted to do so by the district.
The family is currently housed, but they are still in a precarious living situation, he said.
“The main thing is that the boy is still not getting his needs met and, with the life of me, I still don’t understand why,” he said. “This is a real challenge. Like anybody, the school is supposed to be there to educate your kids.”