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Mother: Student dragging happened

The mother of the special needs child involved in an alleged dragging incident at Brookhaven Elementary School last year says the incident happened, and she wants teachers to undergo more training on how to deal with autistic children.

Bailey Miller said confusion on whether to board a school bus or wait in the parent pick-up line during a bad-weather day on Jan. 6, 2017, led to her son, 11-year-old Dorian Aldridge, suffering an autistic meltdown, and that former BES Principal Shelley Riley dragged him toward the buses when he refused to go on his own. Miller disputes Riley’s testimony in a public contract hearing last week that she did not drag Aldridge, claiming the former principal told her afterward she had to drag the student to prevent him from running out of the school’s front door toward traffic.

“I understand that, but you don’t drag someone’s child down a hallway,” Miller said. “She said she couldn’t pick him up, so she drug him. I said, ‘Why couldn’t you get down on his level?’ I told them numerous times — made it known to the vice principal and teachers — any time he has a meltdown, call me. I have my cell phone on me at all times just for this kind of thing.”

The alleged dragging incident is the top reason Brookhaven School District Superintendent Ray Carlock gave for not renewing Riley’s contract for the 2018-19 school year, a termination she has fought in public contract hearings that have been ongoing since May 1 this year.

Miller said she found out about the alleged dragging incident the following Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, when superintendent Ray Carlock asked her to come to his office and discuss the incident with Riley. Miller said Riley told her at that meeting she never touched Aldridge directly, but instead led him by his backpack loop. 

Carlock testified last week Riley admitted to the dragging in a meeting with Miller and deputy superintendent Rod Henderson, but Riley later testified no dragging ever occurred, and she denied having admitted the incident to Miller and apologizing. Riley also criticized Carlock for basing his report on the incident on statements gathered by Henderson instead of personally interviewing BES teachers, whose testimonies in the hearings have not been consistent. 

PE teacher Ernie Triplett testified he witnessed Riley drag Aldridge approximately 20 yards, but fourth-grade teacher Marlene Martin testified she saw Riley trying to pick the child up under his arms and saw no dragging.

Miller said she told Carlock she believes the district’s teachers need more training for dealing with students with autism.

“I said, ‘Y’all need to teach your teachers and faculty how to deal with these situations,’” she said. “You have to deal with this in certain ways. I have coach (Jerrold) Willis’ cell phone number, the special needs teacher’s number, I have their personal numbers all in my phone. I told them anytime Dorian has a meltdown, give me a call, I can talk him out of a meltdown.”

Training has also been a topic of much discussion in the ongoing contract hearings.

Carlock has testified Riley failed to properly use her restraint and seclusion training when dealing with special needs students, with Riley countering she felt unable to follow proper procedures because the training is inadequate.

District behavioral specialist Anabel Spencer testified she taught restraint and seclusion techniques to other teachers in the district under a “train the trainers” program after being certified by the Crisis Prevention Institute, but said her approximately 30-minute training sessions were not long enough to properly teach the material, which CPI teaches over the course of three days. Spencer also said she had never seen the district’s restraint and seclusion policy when handed a copy during her testimony.

Carlock has since testified the district’s restraint training is now an hours-long process, but said the sessions are longer only because the district’s new training vendor teaches that way. He has defended last year’s 30-minute sessions as adequate and said Spencer was confused during her testimony.

Miller also said Aldridge has been bullied because of his diagnosis, but school officials are dismissive when she complains. 

“Instead of punishing those children, they make excuses — ‘This is just how boys are going to act,’” she said. “I love Brookhaven schools. I moved back home so my children can go to Brookhaven schools. Having a special needs child has opened my eyes up to a lot of things.”

Miller also said Riley passed Aldridge on to fourth grade with a good cause exemption, despite him earning failing marks in third grade. She said she was uncertain her son was ready for the promotion and that he began to struggle immediately in the higher grade.

The Literacy-Based Promotion Act requires good cause exemptions be awarded in writing by superintendents upon a principal’s recommendation, and that meetings with the principal, teacher and parent of the student being considered must take place beforehand.

But Miller said she attended no good cause exemption meetings (she attends three meetings per year for Aldridge’s individualized education program). Her son has since required one-on-one tutoring to keep pace.

“Now, we’re going to have to repeat fourth grade again,” she said. “If he went on to fifth grade, he’d struggle even more. I think something needs to be done, especially when it comes to special needs children. They struggle enough as it is, and they don’t need to have to deal with it any more at school.”