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