Special education teacher accused of abusing non-verbal students

MACOMB, Mich. (WXYZ) - “They deserve respect.  They deserve equal treatment.  They deserve to feel safe at school,” said Shelley Fraley of students with special needs. 

Fraley’s nine-year-old son Owen has autism and is non-verbal. When he started coming home from school in tears this school year, she spoke to his teacher. 

“I said to Miss Brittany, is there a kid that is bothering him at school? Is someone bullying him?” said Fraley. 

The teacher told her nothing happened. Then Fraley got an unexpected call.  The Macomb County Sheriff’s office told her the teacher, 28-year-old Brittany Stevens, would be charged with three counts of 2nd degree Child Abuse, a 10 year felony.  Paraprofessionals in the classroom had documented and then reported dozens of incidents of alleged abuse.  It allegedly happened to Owen and other students in the Macomb Intermediate School District’s Autism Program, which is located in Sequoyah Elementary in Macomb, over the course of about a year. 

“That she was hitting them,” said Fraley.  “She hit Owen repeatedly.” 

“We have learned she carried one student across the room by his ankles,” said Sarah Stempke-Kime, an attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, which is representing Owen in a lawsuit. 

“One of the kids knocked something off her desk and she screamed, 'I hate you.'   And kicked him and pushed him,” said Fraley of the allegations she has been told about.  

They have also been told by investigators that the teacher spit gum on Owen’s school paper, then made him clean it up, called students a—holes, and told non-verbal students who were making noise in the classroom to, “Shut the F- up.”

“When a student is already limited verbally, and you tell him to, ‘Shut the F-up,’ what are you doing to him psychologically?” asks Attorney Stempke-Kime. 

Stempke-Kime and her client say they want change. They want the district to put cameras in classrooms where non-verbal students are taught. They acknowledged working with students with special needs can be stressful and want to have support for overwhelmed teachers. They want to see more policies to make  employees feel safe reporting abuse.  The paraprofessionals who witnessed these alleged acts said they were afraid they would lose their jobs if they spoke out against the teacher. 

“That to me is so disheartening, that it was allowed to go on for that long,” said Fraley. 

She hopes the lawsuit leads to support for Owen as he recovers from abuse and protects other children. 

“I can tell you a parents worst fear with a child with non-verbal autism is something terrible will happen to them and we will never know. Because they can’t come home and say mom this is what happened to me,” said Fraley

An attorney for the accused teacher says he is still waiting to see evidence backing up the allegations.  He maintains that his client is innocent. 

“My client has been teacher of the year in that school district, and it comes as a complete shock,” said Daniel Randazzo, attorney. 

 “The MISD’s first priority is for the safety and welfare of our students and families.  As a result of our internal investigation, assisted by legal counsel, we have discharged the teacher.” MISD Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Operations David Rilley.  MISD Attorney Gary Collins, Collins and Blaha, P.C., states, “The MISD Administration responded promptly and appropriately to protect students. We are pleased that law enforcement has acted so quickly.”  

Stevens was arraigned in the Shelby Township 41-A District Court and given a $10,000.00 personal bond.  She is scheduled to be back in the Shelby Township 41-A District Court for a Probable Cause Conference on 3/1/18 at 1:30pm

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