A former Nisswa Elementary School education assistant — who said he fears that something horrible is bound to happen in a special education class — said he filed a complaint last week with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) of allegations of abuse and stress in the special education classroom.
William Cruz, Jr. — who was an educational assistant for the Brainerd School District for five years, two years as a substitute and three years in the Early Childhood Special Education program in Nisswa — said Thursday that he filed his complaint with MDE because school district administrators did nothing to address the concerns. Cruz alleges administrators were notified about the situation at the beginning of the school year and throughout the year, but nothing was done.
“They’re (administrators) ignoring our concerns,” said Cruz. “More kids were added to the program, but no additional staff ... Everyone at the school knew what was going on but for some reason the phrase ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ (went into play) and people backed off. These special education kids are vulnerable, they have needs and if one blows up all the kids have to be removed for their safety and when you’re understaffed, it makes the situation worse.”
A MDE spokesperson said Wednesday that they cannot confirm or deny that they received the complaint regarding Nisswa Elementary School.
School administrators say Cruz’ letter of complaint has a lot of allegations that are concerning to them.
“He takes some unfair shots (at us) in the letter,” said Brainerd Superintendent Steve Razidlo. “... This letter (of complaint) may or may not have been sent to the state, we can’t verify it at this time.”
Razidlo said the district takes all letters of concern seriously, and this letter was no different. Razidlo said himself, Nisswa principal Erin Herman and Gaynard Brown, the Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative director, have reviewed Cruz’ concerns.
Razidlo said in the letter, Cruz alleges that the district is not running its special education classes safely and that is not true. Razidlo said the district closely monitors all of its special education programs throughout all of its buildings and staff are trained for safety, which is ongoing.
“I haven’t spoken personally with Mr. Cruz but have shared (his) text with professionals in the district,” said Razidlo. “The discussion is ongoing, and we don’t have any substantiation that it is an unsafe room.”
In an email, Razidlo said, “Classrooms for Developmentally Cognitively Delayed (DCD) students are run with heavily trained staff and with staff ratios which we do not duplicate at many other levels of our K-12 system.
“Providing each and every child with a free and appropriate public education is the law and it is at the heart of specialized programming which by its very nature will have a higher incident of aggressive/violent/disruptive behavior.
“Our Nisswa room has great staff, and although there was turnover of three positions this past fall the language used by Mr. Cruz does not tell the story of the work required by caring, nurturing adults in the day to day service of students with powerful disabilities and equally powerful rights to attend public schools.”
Brown said Wednesday he found out about the allegations in the Nisswa classroom in the last week, and he doesn’t believe they are true. Brown said there are four adults per six students in the Nisswa classroom.
Brown would not comment on the allegations and said if the complaint was sent to the MDE, the state would follow its procedures.
“I respect the state’s process and I’ll wait for the state to make a determination,” said Brown.
Cruz handed in his resignation that was effective Jan. 6. Cruz said he resigned because he needed the time off to attend college courses. Cruz requested a leave or absence from his education assistant position under provisions of his employee contract, and the district denied the request. School administrators report that the district in the past has approved and denied requests for a leave of absence, under provisions in employees contracts.
According to Cruz’s complaint letter to the state, he writes: “Over the years I have noticed the increasing events of aggressive violence perpetrated by students in the DCD classroom at Nisswa Elementary and the lack of adequate staff to meet the individual needs of those students. Well this school year started off the same. On a number of occasions I personally had to step in-between aggressive students and the staff, have secured students after they have left the boundaries of the building, and have seen staff quitting after a relatively short period of time. So far this school year, three employees have left this specific classroom ... One of the most important elements in ensuring a conducive learning environment is consistency. The students need to know who is on their side as well as who is taking care of them, and unfortunately this need is not being met. But what’s most troubling is the reason why these staff members are quitting. It’s fear for their safety and welfare ... Constantly fearing a physical attack on yourself or another student.”
Cruz said the staff can leave, but the children cannot and he is concerned for their safety, as well as the safety as the adults in the classroom. Cruz said something has to be done, otherwise something horrible could happen.