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Parents Of Kids With Autism Protest Abuses Reported In Harford County School

HARFORD COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) -- There are calls for action in Harford County, where parents of autistic children rallied in front of school headquarters. Their protest follows classroom abuse first exposed by the Maryland Disability Law Center.

Investigator Mike Hellgren has more on what parents and the superintendent are saying.

The superintendent defended the school system's response to reports of abuse at Hickory Elementary. Outraged parents say problems with special education extend beyond that one school.

Parents rallied outside Harford school headquarters, demanding changes to special education. Many were stunned by a Maryland Law Center report that found staff at Hickory Elementary threatened autistic children with markers and rolling pins, confined them and sprayed them with water.

"It's just heartbreaking. They just don't have a clue and they need to have training and I don't understand why they're not having the training," said parent Holly Stevenson.

Jeanette Jennings---who was principal of Hickory at the time of the abuse---was among the demonstrators. Jennings says she reported that abuse immediately.

"I have no regrets on any of the decisions that I made and I think that if, in the end, the kids benefit, I don't mind," Jennings said.

Despite repeated requests, no one with the school system would grant WJZ an interview.

The superintendent lashed out at critics at a school board meeting earlier this week.

"Without hesitation, we acted. We notified the appropriate agencies, including the Department of Social Services," said Superintendent Barbara Canavan. "Should this situation ever occur again, I need to assure this community that it will not be tolerated."

But parents say problems with special education are system-wide.

"The door closes and that's it. You're in an institution, basically, and there's no accountability within the classroom," said Hilary Jenkins Spangler.

"I am certainly not going to stand in judgment of anyone and I would ask that they do the same," Canavan said.

Child Protective Services declined to investigate any of the reported abuses at Hickory Elementary School.

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