Lake Elsinore school’s Autism Program under investigation

The Lake Elsinore station of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a report of child abuse that allegedly occurred in the Autism Program at Cottonwood Canyon Elementary School. The report was filed on August 30 by Ace Atkinson, the executive director of Area Board 12 of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities. Atkinson is a mandated reporter who filed the report after Elizabeth Gregory, who witnessed the child abuse, came forward and told him and the Valley News her story.

The report’s allegations

According to the report, on April 21, 2005, from 12 to 3 p.m., Elizabeth Gregory witnessed the improper restraint and handling of a student in the school’s Autism Program. Gregory, a Temecula resident, works as an autism behavioral interventionist and was at the school observing a student who was her client. Gregory said she was sitting at a table in the courtyard area with her client’s teacher when shesaw a boy run out of a classroom. She said she saw him trip, fall and be inappropriately lifted by his wrists by an aide. Gregory said the boy, who looked to be about 7 years old, tripped on the corner of a large playroom carpet that was soaking wet and lying in the courtyard to dry. “He fell on the wet carpet on his face and stomach. He got wet and was upset that his clothes were wet and that he hurt his face,” Gregory said. She said the boy “screamed and had a hysterical tantrum” and an aide ran out of the same classroom he’d exited. She tried to calm him down. He kicked his legs at her, so she grabbed his right ankle and right wrist and lifted him up in the air. Gregory said he was about two feet off the ground, which appeared to have scared him and made him angry. “He started flailing more and the aide almost dropped him, so she sat him back down on the ground,” Gregory said. “Then she lifted him by his wrists about a foot off the ground.”

Gregory was about 10 feet away from the scene and said she witnessed the boy’s arms go pale. “I watched the color drain out of his arms,” she said. She said it made her mad to see how the aide “was inappropriately handling the situation.” Gregory said another aide came out and helped the first one carry the boy by his wrists back into the classroom. “You never lift them that way to restrain them,” she said.

Gregory said the aides didn’t take the time to find out what was wrong with him or understand that he was hurt

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