Parents upset with district’s handling of autistic child

Kindergartner Christopher Martinez’s Valentine’s Day party at Herk Bouris Elementary School was supposed to be a fun day with his classmates. The six-year-old went shopping with his mom, handpicked a box of Angry Birds cards to pass out to his friends, along with treats. However, on Feb. 12, the day before the party, Christopher received a school suspension for having an autism-related breakdown in class.

The Martinez family is upset saying their child’s needs are not being met and their concerns are not being addressed properly by the Menifee Unified School District.

His father, Clifford Martinez, reported that when he came to school at the end of the day to pick up his son he found him sitting in the office. “We were told Christopher had a meltdown in class and stripped off all his clothes in front of the other students,” said Perez. “We were told he was suspended and couldn’t attend the party the next day.”

“Our child should not have been suspended. It is common for a child with autism to react like our son did and strip off his clothes,” said Perez, who said she does not condone her child’s meltdowns but it is not the same as misbehaving from a normal child.

Perez said she has tried to get school officials to understand her child’s autism needs are not being met.

“The district will not comment based on specific students but we follow the education code,” said Betti Cadmus, public information officer for the Menifee Unified School District. “We respond to each individual situation in accordance to guidelines and procedures stated in education code. If necessary, we develop and implement individual student safety plans and if needed, we can revise the individualized education plans.”

Christopher has had other autism-related outbursts since he started kindergarten according to Perez. In December, his class was practicing for a Christmas play when during practice he got upset with a teacher and lashed out.

“I am worried about my son hurting another child. I don’t even know if other parents know my son has autism, that he isn’t just misbehaving,” said Perez, who says she sees the looks other parents give her when on campus or at least she feels she is getting “looks.”

Educationally, Christopher’s parents said his grades are great but his special needs are not being met.

“His teacher told me she doesn’t know how to calm my son down when he starts to get upset. She told us she doesn’t have enough help to handle him,” said Perez.

Perez said she is not upset with the teacher. She knows that having 31 students in kindergarten is a lot and throwing in a child with autism just makes the situation harder.

“The district will not comment on specific children, teachers, or what has been allegedly discussed. All teachers have classroom management and behavioral training. Specialists are available at every site who [have] knowledge about autism. Resources are available to all staff to support every child,” said Cadmus.

Christopher’s family said they have tried to get him into the Chester W. Morrison Elementary School that has a program for autism children and it is closer to their home as well.

“We can walk to Chester W. Morrison but we are told we have to do a district transfer even though it is two blocks from our home and the school said our son first has to qualify. I am almost ready to take him out of the school district,” said Perez.

Priscilla Hoaglin, the aunt of Christopher who lives with the Martinez family, said the Valentine’s Day suspension was the last straw for her and that is why she reached out to the media to share her sister’s story.

“I see her frustration when she comes back from school. I see her cry. This Valentine’s Day party my nephew missed out on was the icing on the cake,” said Hoaglin.

“I feel like I am not being heard,” said Perez. “The school he is at now doesn’t have a program for autism and the school said they would try to get him into one but first they needed to get him enrolled.”

“We have a full range and continuum of programs available. Placement is determined based on student individualized needs,” said Cadmus.

After this month’s suspension, the school did decide to place an aid in the classroom to work directly with Christopher. Perez said she is happy he will have an aid but not happy it took multiple outbursts and a suspension to prove he needed an aid.

Children with autism are also known to escape or run from their safe surroundings, said Perez. Earlier this school year Christopher snuck out of his classroom. Perez said he went through two doors that were supposed to be locked and made it out as far as the sidewalk before school staff found him.

“Once again no one from the school called me to let me know my child tried to run away,” said Perez, who was only told about the incident when she came to pick up her son.

“Generally, if we have a child who elopes from class, we have a discussion about how best to support the student and a safety plan will be established,” said Cadmus. “To ensure environmental safety, strategies will be put in place such as having the student seated away from the exit door and to be placed closer to where the teacher is. In addition, the teacher or other staff members will stand between the child and exit door if they are attempting to leave the room.”

Perez said she and her family have turned to the media for help because she has found there is a shortage of help in her Menifee community for children with autism and she wants other parents to know they are not alone.

According to Cadmus, out of the 9,329 students in the Menifee School District, there are currently 1,085 students receiving special educational support services including support for children with autism.

“You can’t see autism. He looks like a normal child and people don’t understand autism,” said Hoaglin.

7 Responses to "Parents upset with district’s handling of autistic child"

  1. Mother   February 28, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    I would be very upset if a student stripped their clothes off In front of my child! And he has do be punished for misbehaving if he’s in a mainstream class.

  2. B   February 28, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Temecula Luiseno Elementary has a great program with an unbelievable staff for Autistic children. We have been very pleased. We have friends who also have had their autistic child in that district (Menifee) and it was the same struggles for them , so much so they ended up home schooling. The Martinez family should look into transfering if thats a possibility.

  3. Maggie   March 5, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Best thing to do is request your son’s cumulative file and start finding all the violations regarding the teachers and the district. Send a complaint to CDE California Department of Education with a letter stating violations, such as, open gates after bell rings, start documenting everything you see, suspension for a child with disability could be discrimination. Get your son diagnosed properly and get an IEP if you don’t have one. Call Inland Regional Center to see where to go.

  4. Dave   March 10, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Why is it that the first thing some want to do is blame? It is not the fault of the school or teacher that a child has a "meltdown" I have a friend who’s child is autistic and was very unruly. They did most of his schooling at home. It is not fair to the school or all of the other students to have a child who may have a breakdown at any time in class with them. It is also not right to have to have a teachers aid sit in for one child. Our schools are having a hard time teaching as it is without having to hire a teacher for each speacial case and also disrupt the class for the other students.

  5. Laurie   March 14, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Dave, every child has a right to a free and appropriate education. The child shouldn’t be blamed for his behavior. He should be helped with it. The Menifee district needs to properly assess the child and place him in a SDC with supports so he can succeed. He may need a BSP. His parents may need to switch districts, hire an advocate or attorney to get him the appropriate education. I highly recommend the Murrieta district after suffering for 11 years with the Temecula district with my two autistic sons. This child can be taught to manage his behavior with ABA therapy.

  6. amber   March 19, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    These kids shouldn’t be in mainstream schools.

  7. Grace   April 16, 2014 at 4:51 am

    Dave and Amber sound very ignorant! I have a child with autism who has gone through almost the same situation. Kids with autism are regular people too… They deserve to be in general education classrooms if they are higher functioning because that is the setting that fits them best. Until you understand Autism please don’t judge on something you obviously have no clue about.. My son is autistic and the smartest one in his class .. He has issues with behavior but so do most of the other 28 7 and 8 year olds in his class who don’t have autism… You people need to read some books on ethics and hopefully you don’t carry your ridiculous mentality over to your children.


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