Watch CBS News

Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Antioch School Over Restraining Of Special-Needs Boy

ANTIOCH (CBS SF) -- A mother of a special-needs boy has filed a federal lawsuit against his former school in Antioch accusing school staff of inappropriately restraining him on multiple occasions and giving him a bloody nose, bruises and causing him to wet his pants.

AdriAnne Pantell of Antioch filed a lawsuit against Tobinworld II, a school for special-needs students aged 4 to 22, for the alleged physical and emotional abuse of her then-8-year-old son while he briefly attended the school in 2013. Also named in the suit are the Antioch Unified School District, the district school board, district Superintendent Donald Gill, several special education administrators for the district and half a dozen Tobinworld staff members.

A U.S. District Court judge in Oakland Wednesday approved the defendants' motion to dismiss the claim for a third time, according to attorney Tim Davis, who is representing the defendants.

Pantell will have about a month to return to federal court with another amended claim, he said.

Davis said the allegations against Tobinworld, school staff and the district are "not provable, but more importantly, not true." The attorney declined to comment further on the allegations but said he is confident the case will be defeated.

But according to the lawsuit, Pantell's son was violently restrained and forced to go without food or use of the restroom on two separate dates during his brief attendance at Tobinworld from January to February 2013. The boy is "profoundly disabled" and suffers from Kawasaki disease, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder, the complaint states.

On Jan. 28, 2013, the 8-year-old said he wasn't hungry during Tobinworld's scheduled breakfast time, but school staff refused his request for a snack about an hour later and told him to wait until lunchtime, according to the lawsuit.

Staff members made the decision even though they should have known, based on his medical and psychiatric history, that keeping his food intake and blood sugar levels stable is needed to prevent the boy from engaging in disruptive behavior, according to the complaint.

The same day, the lawsuit alleges, five staff members responded when the boy acted out by restraining him "first in an upright position, then violently kicking his feet from underneath him, causing him to fall to the floor and sustain a bloody nose."

Staff members again held down the boy, who at the time weighed about 70 pounds, by sitting on him and forcing him to stretch out his arms.

School personnel set a timer and threatened to reset it and continue restraining him if the boy made any noise, the suit alleges.

Throughout that day, the boy was restrained at least four more times and was denied food and access to the bathroom, causing him to wet his pants, according to the complaint. The complaint states that he also suffered serious bruises due to the repeated restraints.

Several days later, three staff members again held down Pantell's son by kicking his legs out from underneath him and sitting on top of him, according to the suit.

The complaint alleges that Pantell learned about the improper restraints in January and alerted school officials as well as the district board and superintendent, none of whom intervened on her son's behalf.

The boy has suffered "serious physical emotional injury, trauma, extreme anxiety, physical upset and emotional distress" due to the defendants' mistreatment, the lawsuit states.

The suit seeks unspecified damages for alleged violation of 14th Amendment laws, which protect the victim's rights to attend school without being abused, and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other allegations listed in the suit include negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

A representative from Tobinworld could not be reached for comment on the suit Wednesday.

Executive Director Judith Weber founded Tobinworld in the Los Angeles area in 1977, naming it after her autistic son, according to the school's website. A second campus later opened in Antioch.

Weber is married to Matthew Israel, who ran the Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts but was forced to resign in 2011 due to controversy over the facility's use of shock therapy to discipline disabled children and an array of alleged mistreatment of patients.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.