A severely autistic teenage girl endured severe physical abuse this year while being held in an unpadded room at Shadle Park High School, her father alleges.
On three occasions, Katie Pope, a 15-year-old from Bellevue, suffered injuries that required treatment at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.
“This is a challenging time for us,” said her father, attorney Richard Pope, who removed her from a Spokane group home last week and returned her to Bellevue.
“We are under a lot of stress right now,” Pope said Tuesday afternoon.
Renewing a process that began last spring, Pope is again seeking placement for a daughter who he says cannot be managed at home.
Pope’s situation highlights several issues: the lack of appropriate housing in the Seattle area for high-needs children, many of whom are being sent to Spokane; low funding for special education throughout the state; and how schools must deal with crises.
In the meantime, Pope has taken to social media to demand the termination of several Shadle officials and Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger.
“My daughter was severely physically abused and neglected by staff at Shadle Park High School,” Pope posted Monday on Facebook.
The posts drew hundreds of responses, some critical of the school but others blaming Pope for placing his daughter in danger.
Shadle parent Nelly Bean wrote to Pope, “My son had to ride the bus the day your daughter had a fight with one of the other special-needs kids. And my son had to run to the back of the bus and exit the emergency door for his safety.”
Bean added: “Shadle Park and its teachers are doing a great job … quit making it someone else’s job and responsibility to raise your child.”
Pope’s criticism of the district centers on the use of an unpadded isolation room in Shadle’s ABLE (Autism Behavior Learning Environment) classroom. Pope says that his daughter was placed in the room “a dozen or more times” this fall.
In his post, Pope also shows a YouTube video from Nov. 28 that primarily deals with another student, though Katie is being held inside the room.
The Facebook post also includes Katie with a severely bruised elbow from “an unexplained origin.”
The district is unable to comment, said Brian Coddington, the district’s director of communications and public relations.
“We are aware of the situation and are gathering more information, but we are not able to comment on the specifics of a student,” Coddington said.
However, Coddington said Shadle is working to place padding on the door in the ABLE classroom.
With Katie’s mother living in Port Orchard and “having no contact” with Katie, Pope said he has been a single parent since Katie was a toddler.
“Her behaviors at home have been very difficult,” said the 56-year-old Pope, who is better known as a perennial political candidate. He has run for office on at least a dozen occasions, notably winning 38 percent of the vote in the 2000 election against then-incumbent Attorney General Chris Gregoire.
Frustrated by the lack of group homes in the Puget Sound area for children who require 24-hour care, Pope placed Katie in an Excel Supported Living facility in Spokane and transferred her from Interlake High School in Bellevue to Shadle Park.
Out of 138 spaces statewide for high-needs children such as Katie, 73 are in Spokane.
“The state of Washington has deliberately sent these kids to Spokane, and that’s wrong,” Pope said.
Katie, who is nonverbal, began school at Shadle on May 22. By law, public schools in Washington must accommodate all students, including those with special needs.
However, special-needs programs in the state are underfunded despite the recent influx of funding that followed last year’s McCleary decision.
At a given time, about 50 students with special needs are served by Spokane Public Schools, including 28 at the high school level. All attend Shadle or Lewis and Clark, the only schools with timeout, or isolation, rooms.
The rooms are used nationwide, usually to help the student return to a calm state so they are no longer a danger to themselves and others.
For whatever reason – Pope speculates that Katie may have not been properly medicated – his daughter did not return to a calm state on several of those occasions.
“That could have contributed to her unbalance,” Pope said.
The first incident was June 14, the last day of the school year. Asked why she returned to Shadle in the fall, Pope cited the lack of facilities in the Seattle area.
Katie still lived at Excel during the summer, and Pope made frequent visits to Spokane.
Katie made her third and final trip to Sacred Heart on Dec. 13. By then, concerned with the care Katie was receiving at Excel, Pope had determined to bring her home.
Excel declined to comment, citing restrictions on release of information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
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