Northshore School District Administrative building in Bothell, Washington. (Northshore School District)

Northshore School District Administrative building in Bothell, Washington. (Northshore School District)

Deaf family sues Northshore over repeated restraint, isolation of child

The kindergartener was reportedly restrained as much as five times a day by her special education teacher, the lawsuit says.

BOTHELL — A special education teacher restrained one of her kindergarten students in the lunchroom at Lockwood Elementary in September 2021, causing the girl to “become so upset and overstimulated from the restraint that she vomited,” according to a new lawsuit filed against the Northshore School District.

The school contacted her mother to pick her up, but did not mention what led up to the girl getting sick.

The child’s family sued the school district alleging the parents were illegally barred from seeing what was happening in the classroom, as the teacher repeatedly restrained the child throughout the school year and did not properly document it.

The parents, who are deaf, believe they were discriminated against “because they are one of the few Black families served by the school and that white parents are not treated in the same manner.”

The parents were reportedly denied requests to observe their child in class due to what the teacher said was a “district policy protecting the confidentiality of special education students.” But there is no such policy. State law requires schools to let parents observe class conduct.

Both the teacher and the child were injured more than once during incidents where the teacher apparently used restraint. But the parents have struggled to uncover documentation of what kind of restraint was used and why, according to the lawsuit.

“The District is in receipt of the lawsuit and it is being reviewed by our staff and legal counsel,” said Carri Campbell, executive director of communications, in an email March 3. “Northshore School District is committed to ensuring the well-being and safety of each and every one of our students. We take the nature of these allegations very seriously. The District cannot further comment on ongoing litigation.”

In Washington schools, restraints and isolation are only allowed in emergency situations. Restraint is defined as the use of any physical force to restrict a student’s movement and isolation is restricting a student alone in a room, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“For all the restraint and isolation incidents throughout the course of the 2021-22 school year, it is unclear if (the child) posed an immediate threat of harm to herself or other at the times she was retrained,” the lawsuit said.

A study by Disability Rights of Washington and the state’s branch of ACLU found restraints and isolation against students in Washington schools occur “excessively and improperly” as well as disproportionately against students of color and those with disabilities. In the 2019-2020 school year, the last year with data from before the pandemic, schools in the state reported 24,873 instances of student restraint or isolation. The vast majority related to elementary school students.

The child at Lockwood was transferred to a special education classroom in 2021 after her parents suspected she may have a developmental disability. Her mother requested the child’s grandmother, who can translate English into American Sign Language, be included as a contact to communicate with the school. The parents alleged this request was repeatedly ignored.

In August 2021, the parents asked the teacher, Sarah Rabine, if they could observe the classroom. Rabine denied the request, the lawsuit said.

A week after the vomiting incident in September 2021, Rabine emailed the mother saying she had to use a “light hold” on her because of behavioral issues.

“The duration and severity of the restraint and isolation is unknown because the District never completed the required report,” the lawsuit said.

The parents claim they had not witnessed any concerning behavior at home.

By October 2021, documented restraints and isolation of the child from Rabine escalated to as many as five times in one day. In a December 2021 restraint, Rabine reported she was injured with bruises and a bite mark.

In January 2022, Rabine restrained the child twice, according to the lawsuit. The child “was so distressed she attempted to cut herself with classroom scissors,” the lawsuit said.

A week later, Rabine said she restrained the child for “refusing to wear a mask in close proximity to peers.” Rabine indicated both she and the child were injured as a result of the restraint, but it was unclear what the injuries were.

The same day, the district behaviorist Terry Schock observed Rabine’s classroom.

Rabine “really needs to focus on what she is teaching (the child) to do instead of engaging in those target behaviors,” Schock wrote in a report, according to the lawsuit.

Five months after their first request, the school’s principal Tamorah Redshaw approved the parents’ request to observe the class, but the family took issue with an interpreter service offered by the district, later saying the agency “exclusively uses ASL interpreters that are not qualified.”

In another January report, the child hit her head while being restrained by Rabine, who filed an injury report for herself saying she hurt her back and leg.

Soon after, the parents hired an attorney.

About two weeks later, Rabine and Redshaw filled out a report about the parents to Child Protective Services, using Rabine’s accounts of behavior issues in the classroom.

After attorneys got involved, the district “immediately agreed to a change in schools,” the lawsuit said. The child did not have any reported behavioral issues at school after the transfer. An independent evaluator approved by the district, Dr. Jaime AB Wilson, diagnosed her with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and “Other Specified Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorder,” according to the court papers.

In Wilson’s opinion, the trauma-related disorders were caused in part by her experiences at Lockwood Elementary.

“It is very clear to me that the District was scared and they knew that they had messed up,” the parents’ attorney Whitney Fowler Hill said in an interview. “I think what was intentional was that they tried to paint the family in a bad light to distract from their own abuse that they knew they were inflicting on this child at school.”

Fowler-Hill sent the grandmother’s statement in an email March 2.

“Something I feel that needs to be stressed is the physical abuse and the cover-up the district attempted,” she said. “We tried NUMEROUS times to observe what was happening and we were turned down. I feel this is blatant discrimination on part of the district against us as a black Deaf family.”

The family is suing for negligence, violations of Washington law against discrimination, emotional distress, assault and battery and false imprisonment. They are seeking to be compensated “in an amount to be proven in trial.”

A state bill, HB 1479, was proposed in February that would ban isolation and restrict restraint methods in schools. The bill was requested by the state superintendent’s office and was in a Senate committee as of this week.

Maya Tizon: 425-339-3434; maya.tizon@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @mayatizon.

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