Special-needs students protest against school administrator outside court

Former students of The Learning Clinic and their supporters protest outside the Danielson courthouse Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, as they await the arraignment of a school administrator accused of abusing a student last year. Kneeling out front is AJ Acuna of Salem. (Karen Florin/The Day)
Former students of The Learning Clinic and their supporters protest outside the Danielson courthouse Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, as they await the arraignment of a school administrator accused of abusing a student last year. Kneeling out front is AJ Acuna of Salem. (Karen Florin/The Day)

Danielson — Former students of The Learning Clinic, including several who live in New London County, protested Wednesday outside Superior Court as they awaited the arraignment of a school administrator who is charged with shoving and endangering a female student who was having suicidal thoughts.

State police charged Linda Baade, 55, of Pomfret last month with second-degree reckless endangerment and risk of injury to a minor. Baade is the educational administrator at the Brooklyn school for children with special needs. According to an arrest warrant affidavit, the 15-year-old was removed to another building on Oct. 24, 2017, and placed in a room that locks from the inside when she became upset that she couldn't attend a Halloween party. Her mother said she used a mechanical pencil to etch the words, "Help me," on her forearm while in the room alone for 18 minutes and suffered bruising on her arm when Baade pushed and shoved her during the incident.

The mother contacted the Department of Children and Families and state police. Troopers obtained partial video of the incident from a surveillance camera in the hallway, according to the affidavit.

"In these scenarios, Linda Baade is seen shoving the victim back in to the room with her hands and another time pushing the seated victim back in to the room using her legs and feet," the affidavit said. "This is not consistent with trying to de-escalate the situation or attempting to calm the victim down."

The students arranged the protest before learning that Baade's attorney, Paul F. Chinigo, had requested and been granted a continuance of the case until Oct. 25. Chinigo said by phone Wednesday afternoon that he hasn't seen any of the police reports or video documentation and couldn't comment on a pending case.

The Learning Clinic's head of school could not immediately be reached to comment. The facility is a private school with residential and day programs for students with a variety of special needs. Public school districts pay tuition to The Learning Clinic when students from their districts attend the school, where classes are smaller and clinicians are on hand to provide support.

The nine students who sat cross-legged on the ground in front of the courthouse Wednesday morning holding signs reading, "It hurts," "I'm scared," "Please don't leave me alone," and "We believe you" say the school's practices of restraining and isolating students exhibiting dysregulated behavior — or acting out — are out of date.

"There's been physical and mental abuse going on there for at least a decade," said AJ Acuna of Salem, 20, who attended The Learning Clinic during the 2011-12 school year. He said he suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and when he refused to touch a chair one day, he was placed in an isolated area in what is called the restricted day program. That experience and other incidents that occurred that day left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

"The most important thing is that when a child is acting out, to work with the child to de-escalate the situation," he said. "I've seen teachers try to escalate the situation. Instead of working with the kid against the problem, they work against the kid. Their goal is unquestioned compliance."

Other protesters said they lived in Mystic, East Lyme and New London.

Gabby Curboy of Brooklyn, who attended the school from sixth-grade through her freshman year, said she had seen staff restrict the airflow of students while restraining them by putting their knees on the students' back.

"I would like for Linda Baade to be removed," Curboy said. "I'd like some sort of internal investigation into the school to right what is wrong."

The mother of the girl involved in the Baade case thanked the protesting students for caring. She said that in addition to the Oct. 24 incident, her daughter, who has autism and anxiety, had walked away from the school several times, once without her shoes. The child now has returned to school in a specialized program in her home district but can only tolerate a partial school day.

As for The Learning Clinic, the mother — who asked not to be identified in order to protect her child's confidentiality — said, "There has to be more oversight from DCF and the Connecticut Special Education Board if they're going to continue to receive funds from Connecticut."

k.florin@theday.com

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