Autistic Student Abused at Atlanta School Receives a Measure of Justice

Ten year old DeKalb County student Stefan Ferrari arrived home from school one day in 2008 with ripped clothing and unexplained bruises. Stefan was incapable of communicating the cause of his injuries, as he suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder and is nonverbal, meaning unable to communicate. Any parent would be horrified and bewildered, but Stefan’s mother was prepared and able to find an explanation.

Carolyn Ferrari spent the prior weeks wondering why Stefan’s behavior at home had deteriorated and why he was returning from school with mystery bruises and scrapes. On October 21, 2008 she sewed a microphone into her son’s shirt and sent him to school, and what was recorded detailed how her son received unexplained injuries, bruises that ran the length of his thighs, as well as scratch marks. The audio recorded adult voices ridiculing the boy, talking in a sexually explicit manner and threatening that he was going to get a “quiet hit.” Following that statement there was 18 seconds of thumps and the sounds of Stefan making noises.

Free and Appropriate Education

Autism disorders are developmental disabilities characterized by impaired social skills, communication and behavior. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 110 children fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) spectrum.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act  (IDEA) of 2004 mandates that school districts must provide access to general education and specialized educational services for all students. It also requires that children with disabilities receive support free of charge as is provided to non-disabled students. In short, school districts throughout the country are required by law to provide a “free and appropriate education” for all students, regardless of their disabilities.

Auditors hired by the school district found that the graduation rate for Atlanta’s special education students is nearly 20 points lower than the statewide average for special needs students, and the dropout rate has more than doubled over four years.

Justice for Stefan

The judge ruled that Atlanta Schools had to foot the bill for Stefan’s private education and therapeutic expenses until he was 22 years old, as a result of what happened. His parents report that he is happy and successful at his new private school.

The Ferraris would like cameras to be placed in classrooms with non-verbal students.  “If I’d had a videotape of my son I think the responsible parties would be in jail right now,” Carolyn said.
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