The Abuse of Special Needs Students


The abuse of special needs students in schools is a serious issue that has received increasing attention in recent years. While school should be a safe and nurturing environment for all students, the reality is that some students are subjected to mistreatment by teachers, staff members, and even fellow students.

The abuse of special needs students can take many forms, including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Physical abuse can involve hitting, pushing, or restraining a student, while emotional abuse may include humiliation, isolation, or belittling.

“I’ve commonly seen caregivers taking advantage of their students’ trust. I’ve seen instances where very artistically talented students were being taken advantage of. Students would create paintings or sculptures and their caretakers would go behind their backs and sell it for profit,” said Hollis Jordan, a photography teacher at North Hollywood High School.

 Neglect can occur when a student’s basic needs are not met, such as not being provided with appropriate food, water, or medical care. Sexual abuse can involve unwanted physical contact or inappropriate sexual behavior.

“I think, after a point, these students become fearful of their caretakers, and people in general,” said Ms. Jordan.

One reason why special needs students are particularly vulnerable to abuse is that they may have difficulty communicating what has happened to them. They may also be less likely to be believed if they report abuse, due to their perceived lack of credibility or because they cannot provide detailed accounts of what has occurred.  

“I’ve seen cases where the harassment of special needs students is reported but the school doesn’t do anything about it. It almost seems like the schools purposely disregard it to cover for the teachers or caregivers that harass and abuse these students,” said Helen Rodriguez, a sophomore attending East Valley High School. 

Another factor contributing to the abuse of special needs students is a lack of training and resources for teachers and staff members. Many educators do not receive adequate training on working with special needs students, which can lead to misunderstandings and inappropriate behavior.

“I think that teachers have a moral obligation, but teachers are also mandated reporters, so on a moral level, teachers should be ashamed of themselves if they don’t do their best to prevent the mistreatment of special needs students,” explained Ms. Jordan.

 Additionally, schools may not have the resources to provide the individualized attention and support that special needs students require, which can create a stressful and chaotic environment that increases the likelihood of abuse.

“You would think that by now LAUSD would have acted on the abuse of its special needs students, but apparently it’s not as important as any other of the numerous issues right now,” Rodriguez says.

To address the issue of abuse of special needs students, it is essential for schools to prioritize training and support for teachers and staff members. This can include training on how to recognize and respond to signs of abuse and strategies for working with special needs students in a positive and respectful manner.

“Classmates should take notice and speak up for their special needs peers when they are being abused because special needs students are not going to be taken seriously, so I think we have a moral obligation to defend those who can’t do it themselves,” says Jesus Renteria, an SAS student at North Hollywood who has seen students being harassed by their caretakers.

Recently, there have been reports of caretakers abusing their power over their students at North Hollywood High School and those reports have gotten nowhere. The caretakers that have been reported still work here, and are being protected by other staff members in the school.

“Most of the time schools brush it off, or acknowledge it but make no changes or take any action in order to stop that abuse,” said Angelina Pantoja, an SAS student at North Hollywood High.

“I think LAUSD needs to involve its students and teachers more with special needs students. Right now, they’re all separated and I think it decreases empathy and understanding for them,” Rodriguez adds.

Parents and caregivers can also play an important role in preventing abuse by staying informed about their child’s experiences at school and advocating for their rights. It is important to establish open lines of communication with teachers and staff members and to speak up if there are any concerns about mistreatment or neglect.

“Parents shouldn’t just drop their kids off. They need to meet the caretakers and see how things are in person by attending classes here and there,” said Ms. Jordan. 

The abuse of special needs students in schools is a serious issue that requires immediate attention and action. By prioritizing training and support for educators, providing the resources necessary to meet the unique needs of special needs students, and establishing open communication between parents and caregivers, and schools, we can work to create a safe and nurturing environment for all students.