A mom and dad want answers. They say they sent their severely disabled son to school and got a horrifying call. He was being rushed to the hospital fighting for his life.
“The neurosurgeon said they were life threatening injuries,” said Alisa Shefke, the child’s mom.
Shefke says her son Noah, 10, has severe autism and is non-verbal. Sometimes he has episodes where he hurts himself, hitting himself in the head. His parents restrain him for safety, but they say school staff told him they are opposed to restraining him in most circumstances.
“You know, my son could have lost his life for them not being willing to do this, and there are a lot of other kids that are just like him,” said Warren Shefke, Noah’s dad.
Noah’s parents say there were two terrifying incidents here at the Keith Bovenschen School where the Macomb Intermediate School District educates students with moderate to severe cognitive impairments. On September 27th Noah hit himself at school until he started vomiting. His mom was called to pick him up from school.
His mom says after that incident she had a meeting and asked school staff to restrain him whenever he hits himself. She says they said they may not restrain him, but would use other techniques.
“They were so reassuring during those meetings that they were going to protect him,” said Alisa.
She sent her son back to school, only to get a call on October 10th.
“Getting that phone call, you feel like you did something wrong. But I didn’t. They did. They didn’t protect him,” said Alisa.
Noah’s parents say school staff told them they didn’t restrain him when he started hurting himself, just waited it out. Noah ended up unconscious. They called an ambulance. Doctors at Saint John Hospital sent him to Children’s Hospital in critical condition.
He had two brain injuries, one new, the other possibly from the previous incident at school.
“On two occasions he was allowed to sit there and beat himself until his brain was bleeding,” said Attorney David Christensen, who is now representing the family.
He says Noah’s rights are being violated. He says Noah’s parents sent e-mails to the school asking for a new plan to keep him safe, but the school didn’t think a new plan was necessary.
“There is a severe misunderstanding or refusal to follow the law and it almost resulted in his death,” said Christensen.
Seven Action News reached out to the Macomb Intermediate School District for comment. Justin Michalak, the Assistant Superintendent for Special Education & Student Services reached out. He has only been in his position at the district for less than two months. He was not there when the incidents with Noah happened. He says he can’t speak about Noah’s situation specifically due to student privacy laws, but that staff can restrain students in emergencies.
“We work closely with doctors, experts, and parents on behavior support plans. Staff across the district are trained on how to react and safety is always a top concern. We follow the Michigan Department of Educations recommendations on student restraint, “ said Michalak.
In 2016 the state adopted new laws restricting the use of seclusion and restraint in schools. Noah’s parents say they wonder if this has lead to their situation.
The law reads that its intent is to “eliminate the use of seclusion and restraint, and increase meaningful instruction time for students.” It also says physical restraint can be used “in an emergency situation.”
“There is really no road to bring Noah back to school until they realize Noah needs restraint. It is not a choice. It is their responsibility,” said Alisa.