When-nine-year-old special needs student Stevie Dreisbach came home from school one day in April, his parents say he had bruises covering the back of his legs.
“He could hardly walk up the driveway,” says his father Steven Dreisbach.
Steven immediately called his wife Bonnie Dreisbach.
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“See if they wrote him a note,” Bonnie told her husband. But there was nothing, and the school didn't call.
According to Bonnie, if anything happens during the school day, his teacher usually writes a note in a daily log Stevie brings home in his backpack. Bonnie tells NBC10 that Stevie is autistic and verbally limited, so he can’t tell them himself. She says Stevie left for Walt Disney Elementary School in Levittown in perfect health that morning.
Bonnie called the school the next day and spoke with Stevie's teacher, who said she was out of the room at a meeting the day before, but would check with his aides. The teacher, according to Bonnie, later told her Stevie threw a tantrum and had to be boxed in by four chairs until he was calm.
The Dreisbachs say they weren't able to get any more details from the school, so they had Stevie examined and filed a police report with the Tullytown Police Department. They also transferred Stevie to another school.
The Bucks County District Attorney’s office claims Stevie’s bruises were self-inflicted or caused by what they called compassionate restraint used when a special needs student is restrained to prevent him or her from hurting themselves or other. Stevie's doctor says that the bruises are not self-inflicted and that they look like hand prints, said the family.
With the situation at a standstill, the Dreisbachs came to the NBC10 Investigators to help them get the answers they needed.
The Bucks County Intermediate Unit, the agency that oversees special needs classes in the area, sent the Investigators this statement in early July:
"When the parents informed the BCIU about their concerns, two supervisors went to the school and jointly interviewed all Intermediate Unit staff members who had contact with the student. After a complete and full investigation, supervisors found nothing to justify the removal or suspension of any staff member from the classroom. However, following IU policy, and state mandated reporting procedures, the supervisors also contacted ChildLine and the local police so that an independent investigation could occur.”
The Dreisbachs say the school never set up a meeting to discuss the incident.
The NBC10 Investigators also contacted school officials who declined to comment on whether or not there was a meeting and whether restraint was used.
Attorney Dave Frankel, who represents families with special needs children, told the Investigators that the school may have violated state law by failing to meet with the Dreisbachs within 10 days of the incident if restraint was used.
"The kid's team -- the teachers, the staff, the parents have to meet to discuss it and to figure out what happened and what might happen in the future," says Frankel.
The Dreisbachs are considering suing Walt Disney Elementary School.
Here's the full Bucks County Intermediate Unit's statement:
Dear Mr. Hairston,
In response to your request for a statement from the Bucks County Intermediate Unit regarding an investigation concerning an Intermediate Unit student, please see our statement below:
1) When the parents informed the BCIU about their concerns, two supervisors went to the school and jointly interviewed all Intermediate Unit staff members who had contact with the student. After a complete and full investigation, supervisors found nothing to justify the removal or suspension of any staff member from the classroom. However, following IU policy, and state mandated reporting procedures, the supervisors also contacted ChildLine and the local police so that an independent investigation could occur.
2) The Intermediate Unit has cooperated and will continue to cooperate fully in the police investigation, turning over all internal notes from the Supervisors' initial interviews with the staff, and providing full contact information for all staff to the police.
3) It is our understanding from conversations with the police officer in charge of the investigation that his preliminary findings indicate that the parents' complaint against Intermediate Unit staff is “unfounded”. However the investigation is ongoing and continues. As of Monday, July 2, 2012, a final report had not yet been released. We understand that once a final report is completed, it will be turned over to the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office to determine if any further action is warranted.
4) On behalf of the Intermediate Unit, I want to assure you that we are committed to the highest care and protection of our students, and their safety is our utmost concern. If at any time we become aware that any Intermediate Unit staff member was involved in any inappropriate contact with a student, we will swiftly and immediately remove that staff member from working with students, and we will take all available and appropriate action to ensure that the staff member no longer works with children.
Michael J. Masko, Ed.D.
Assistant Executive Director
Bucks County Intermediate Unit #22