Rosa Smith, 26, endured years of horrific treatment at the hands of an abusive teacher, according to a lawsuit filed by her family in federal court.
Smith attended the High Point School in Ann Arbor, Mich., and suffered countless abuses over the years, according to the suit.
What finally sparked the lawsuit were photos taken by her teacher, Nesa Johnson, that were sent to Smith’s mother. In the photos, Smith’s mouth is covered with tape. Along with the photos, Johnson sent a text message reading, “Help. She won’t be quiet!!!!”
“Taping a special-needs student’s mouth shut is appalling in and of itself, but was especially torturous for Rosa, who is physically unable to remove the tape, has trouble breathing and clearing her throat, and breathes out of her mouth,” reads the lawsuit.
This is not the first episode of abuse, according to court documents. In 2004, Smith’s mother met her at the bus stop after school to find that her daughter had third-degree burns on her leg. She reported it to the school, which responded that Smith had pulled a cup of coffee down from a shelf. The lawsuit argues that Smith does not have the cognitive abilities to have burned herself.
Among other abuses, Johnson is accused of locking Smith in a bathroom for long periods of time. On one occasion, Smith had a cold and was told to stop “gargling her spit,” says the lawsuit. Smith needed to have her phlegm suctioned from her nasal passages later after spending hours locked in the bathroom.
The suit further alleges that the school overmedicated Smith in order to “quiet her down and cause her to fall asleep.” Smith, who needs to wear a diaper because of her condition, was found soaked in her own urine on some occasions, suggesting that she’d been left to sit in it for most of the day rather than be cleaned and changed.
“The Washtenaw ISD wants to assure the parents of our district that we take the health, safety, and education of all of our students very seriously,” the school district said in a statement to the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday. “As to the subject of this lawsuit, the family did not report this, or any other complaint to the district until nearly a year after it occurred. During that subsequent year, the student continued attending school, in the same classroom, with the same teacher. When we were first informed of the family’s concern, we immediately conducted a complete investigation and took appropriate remedial action.”
In addition to Johnson, the lawsuit names the Washtenaw school district and its head of special education, Anne Nakon, as defendants.
Nakon, in an email to the Free Press, said, “I would never condone such a behavior and, had I been made aware of or suspected any mistreatment of a student, would have immediately investigated the situation to protect the student.”
According to a school district spokesperson, both Nakon and Johnson have left their jobs, but it’s unclear if they resigned due to the allegations.
“This case is particularly disturbing,” said the family’s attorney, Jonathan Marko, in a statement to the Free Press, because Smith is “not able to defend herself and is entirely reliant on others — in this case her very abusers — for help.”
When asked why Smith was not pulled from school sooner, Marko responded that the family was not aware of the extent of the abuse until the episode with the photos in March of last year. Smith no longer attends school and is being cared for at home.
The family is seeking damages upward of seven figures.
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