APS staffer accused of taping autistic student's mouth shut

Posted at: 10/18/2013 7:28 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

A teacher’s aide is back in school after she placed tape over the mouth of a wheelchair-bound special needs boy, according to Albuquerque Public Schools.

District communications confirmed the incident, which occurred the last week of September at Rio Grande High School, only after a source shared the details with 4 On Your Side.  The source was frustrated that the aide was able to keep her job.

According to the source, the 10th grade boy – who’s autistic and cannot stand or walk – was meowing like a cat while on a field trip with his special education class.  The source said that the aide, also known as an educational assistant, told the boy that if he didn’t stop she’d placed tape over his mouth.

After the class returned to school, the source said the boy kept making noises so the aide applied several pieces of scotch tape over his upper and lower lips in an attempt to silence him.

After 4 On Your Side started asking questions Thursday evening, the principal of the school sent an e-mail to staff which stated, in part, “Unfortunately, one of the news channels learned of the incident.  Therefore, it will now be reported to the public. This is NOT an ongoing incident!”

The principal explained to the staff that the district completed a personnel investigation and met with the boy’s family.

Monica Armenta, executive director of the district’s communications department, said the district put the aide on leave for three weeks, one of which was unpaid.  She said a letter of reprimand was also placed in the aide’s personnel file.

Armenta said Albuquerque Public Schools Police did not write a report.

“We are just as disturbed by it as anyone else,” Armenta said of the aide’s actions with the boy.  “It isn’t acceptable and it isn’t tolerated.”

At least one parent and one student outside Rio Grande High School said they’re surprised the aide wasn’t terminated.

“I think she should have had more sense than harming a child like that,” Theresa Aragon, a grandparent of a Rio Grande student said.  “I believe it’s abuse -- physical abuse, and mental abuse.”

“I don't think it's right whatsoever,” senior Ricky Vigil said. “I think they should put criminal charges on her.  No matter what the circumstances, you should not be able to tape a kid's mouth shut no matter what."

Although it may be easy to jump to conclusions, Armenta said the aide has due process rights and therefore could avoid termination.

“Unless you're -- I think have all the details in front of you, it's hard to make that determination,” she said.

In addition to the aide, the district placed the boy’s teacher on paid leave for a short period of time.

Attempts to reach the boy’s family were unsuccessful.