ASD teacher accused of abusing autistic student
An Anchorage School District (ASD) teacher is accused of abusing an autistic child at Ptarmigan Elementary School in May.
According to a public criminal complaint document, Lynn Sherwood, 53, is charged with one misdemeanor count of child abuse for an incident in which she allegedly pushed an 8-year-old boy back into a doorway.
Parents Nicholas and Katherine Armon identified that student as their son, now 9-year-old Austin Armon, who they describe as a high functioning autistic student attending classes in an integrated classroom.
"He can comprehend, he can verbalize, he can express his emotions and feelings until he gets angry. Once he gets angry, he becomes non-verbal. He becomes aggressive," Nicholas explained.
They say that's what happened on May 3. Austin was upset over a disagreement with other students about some paint supplies in Art Class. His frustration turned to anger as it was time to line up and he became disruptive.
That's when Katherine says surveillance video shows Sherwood stepping in.
"At that point, she just walks up and grabs him by the shoulder of his hoodie and yanks him out of line, pushes him up against the wall, at that point he's hitting her and kicking her, trying to get her to let go of him," said Katherine.
She says the video shows Sherwood pulling Austin down the hallway as his meltdown continues to escalate, then just before the questionable action takes place, Sherwood steps away from Austin and appears to be trying to call for help.
"At that point, she turns around and charges him into a corner where the door jam ended up bruising the back of his head and his back," said Katherine, demonstrating a pushing motion with both hands, later adding. "When she charges him into that corner, I mean you can see him drop to the floor."
According to the charging document, Austin was too upset to be examined by the school nurse but was later seen by a doctor at Alaska Pediatric Night Clinic.
"[The pediatrician] described the injuries to [Austin] as Bruising along his T9-T12 Vertebrae and Bruising on the occipital portion of his head. [...] [The pediatrician] reported that the injuries would make sense with an adult pushing [Austin] against the wall," Anchorage Police Officer Frey wrote in the charging document.
"The principal called him into the office to tell her what happened while we were sitting there and our initial thought was, 'There's no way this happened,' but it wasn't until the principal looked at the camera video and she called me and said, 'He was right,' and we actually had to apologize to him because we didn't initially believe him," said Katherine.
She said the school's principal was forthcoming and transparent with them, but they did not feel the same about the District's handling of the incident.
"I get the feeling from the District, from the main head shed, that they're trying to sweep it under the rug, they're trying to hide some things, but the school, from the minute it happened, has always been like, 'This is what happened,'" said Katherine.
She says she wasn't allowed to see the surveillance video until a month after the incident, but what is even more concerning to her is that the video the Municipal Prosecutor's Office showed her is a different file.
"Come to find out that the video submitted by the School District was not the same video they showed us," she explained, "It was a darker, obstructed copy so you couldn't really see what was going on."
This isn't the first time ASD has been accused of hiding video evidence of abuse.
The parents of a special needs student were suing the District after they said a teacher's aide sexually abused their son in 2014 and it took ASD more than a month to investigate. The victim's attorney said he later learned the surveillance video provided by the District intentionally left out a portion of footage that showed there was a second victim.
"We feel very betrayed by ASD. We feel like they're not taking the idea that they're to protect the kids... we feel like they're trying to cover their tracks for the teachers when this abuse allegation is out there. They don't seem to be very forthcoming with information," said Nicholas.
According to the charging document, a witness said the method that Sherwood used was "inappropriate and not trained by ASD." The complaint also says that Sherwood has not received training on how to restrain children.
Nicholas and Katherine say they want some assurance from ASD that what allegedly happened to Austin won't happen to another student, and they hope mandatory training can be part of the solution. In the meantime, Austin is attending a different school this year.
On August 7, KTVA submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to ASD containing questions about the handling of the incident, including:
- On what date did ASD become aware of the child abuse allegation against elementary school teacher Lynn Sherwood?
- Did ASD ever notify parents of children who’ve had interactions with Ms. Sherwood or will have future interactions with her of the pending case?
- On what date was Ms. Sherwood placed on administrative leave due to the pending case? (3AN-18-05801CR)
ASD would only say that Sherwood is an elementary teacher at ASD and has been with the district since 2003.
ASD Director of Communications Catherine Esary admitted Monday that the District altered the surveillance video, but said the intent was only to make it clearer for prosecutors and comply with Federal Law.
"The footage shown to the parents is not different footage from the footage provided to the Municipal Prosecutor's office. Both depict the same setting, events and people. No portion of the footage was deleted or cut. The only differences are that ASD enhanced the brightness of the video provided to the prosecutor to make it clearer for viewing, and blurred the faces of students to protect their privacy in accordance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)," Esary wrote in an email to KTVA.
When reached by phone Sunday, Sherwood, who the District has said is on administrative leave, declined to answer questions, saying she would call back, but has not yet done so.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a response from ASD to claims regarding their handling of the video evidence.
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