Was Teacher’s Assistant’s Abuse of Autistic Child Isolated and Unanticipated?
A report on the clickorlando.com website indicates that Jacqueline Zuniga, a 39-year old teacher’s aide at Pine Ridge Elementary School in Clermont, has been arrested on charges of child abuse.
According to law enforcement, Ms. Zuniga was assigned to work with special needs children, including a child with autism. Apparently, the autistic child hit and bit her. At that time she suggested that she might retaliate if he kept doing it. A few minutes later, as the child lay on the floor, Ms. Zuniga picked him up by the arm, and threw him five feet away into a wall. The child hit the wall so hard he was knocked unconscious.
Although the school reportedly immediately removed Ms. Zuniga and placed her on leave, as a Florida child abuse lawyer, I think there are still questions that need to be answered. For example, I would be curious to know what kind of special training Ms. Zuniga had received before being placed in a special needs classroom. In my experience, teachers with special needs training rarely threaten their students with retaliation. Generally, they are specially trained to anticipate that autistic children may act and get physical with them. Under no circumstances is it ever appropriate for a teacher or teacher’s aide to throw a child across the room.
The Lake County School Board could be held liable for any damages caused by Ms. Zuniga’s reported actions. Hopefully, they will see fit to make sure that other special needs teachers and teachers’ aides receive proper training to deal with autistic children.