May 15th, 2012
05:01 PM ET

Parents of special needs students say school district covered up abuse

By Julie Peterson, CNN

(CNN) Slammed into lockers, isolated in darkened schoolrooms, vulgar language by a teacher – it was just another day at school for special needs student Alex Williams.

Recently released court documents say Alex, who has cerebral palsy, was routinely abused by teacher Melanie Pickens at Atlanta-area Hopewell Middle   School between 2006-2007. Despite extensive abuse of Alex and other students that was substantiated by a Fulton County School district investigation in 2007, no charges have been filed against teacher Melanie Pickens or then-Principal Frances Boyd. None of Pickens’ special needs students had the verbal abilities to tell anyone they were being physically and emotionally hurt.

You might expect that documented child abuse, in a public school, with many reports by teachers, school nurses, and staff, would automatically result in criminal charges -at least against the teacher actually doing the abusing.

Parents of Melanie Pickens’ former students say: Think again.

The way the Williams family learned of their son’s mistreatment was circuitous and indirect, according to Lisa and Doug Williams of Atlanta suburb Alpharetta. The parents of another student, Jake Marshall, informed the Williams, according to court documents released earlier this year. That’s because the abuse of student Jake Marshall was the first to be uncovered. Now 19, Jake lives with Angelman Syndrome and is non-verbal.

Back in 2004, special needs teacher Melanie Pickens taught a class of middle school students, at Hopewell Middle School, in the Atlanta suburb of Milton. She taught in an area of the school called G Hall, which is the section of the school used solely for special needs students.

In May 2007, another special needs teacher, Susan Tallant, says she found Jake isolated in a room, alone and strapped in a chair. She says it was obvious he’d been there a long time, because he was covered in his feces. “He had defecated and actually gotten it everywhere. All over him, all over the chair he was sitting in, all over the floor,” Tallant said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Julie Peterson.
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Filed under: Behavior • Bullying • Special needs • Teachers • video
May 15th, 2012
11:40 AM ET

Today's Reading List

Here's what the editors of Schools of Thought are reading today:

Los Angeles Japanese Daily News: USC Honors Nisei at Graduation
Nine Japanese-American students who were forced into internment camps while they were students at University of Southern California during World War II graduated from USC on Friday. A small group protested the graduation because the honorary degrees are only being conferred upon the living, and because some were denied their transcripts if they continuted their education elsewhere.

AZCentral.com: Some schools removing valedictorian title
Some Arizona high schools are honoring more of their best students, not just the top two who used to earn the titles valedictorian or salutatorian. Some top students prefer the competition for the title and are afraid the lack of one hurts them in the hunt for college scholarships.

Education Week: Charters Bills Go Down in Alabama, Mississippi
Recently, charter school bills have been popular in the Deep South. However, in Alabama and Mississippi this legislative session, charter school measures died before they could hit pro-charter school governors' desks.

U.S. News: 3 Etiquette Tips for New PTA Members
Parent-Teacher Associations can have an impact on school budgets, curriculum, and other activities. The article offers advice on how parents who are new to a school can introduce themselves to the PTA.

Wired.com: Girls Impress FIRST Championship With Project That Could Save Lives
Thousands of students gathered in St. Louis recently to compete in a national robotics competition, which includes the Junior FIRST Lego League. The Hippie Pandas, an all-girl team from New York, invented a way for people to pasteurize milk safely, and their invention is already in use in Nicaragua.

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Filed under: Curriculum • Economy • Policy • Practice • Technology • Testing • Today's Reading List
May 15th, 2012
07:18 AM ET

Best and worst graduation gifts

CNN's Carl Azuz speaks with Richelle Carey about the good, the bad and the outrageous when it comes to graduation gifts.