Marcus Harrell, a 9-year-old boy who suffers from attention-deficit disorder and falls on the autism spectrum, was beaten in the head Sept. 30 by a student in the cafeteria at Mary Ann Winterling Elementary School. He then started having nightmares, developed tics and needed heavier doses of medication, according to his grandmother and guardian, Loretta Barr.
He remained out of school for 35 days — too scared to go back to the school he loved, she said.
"We tried to get him up to the school, and he kicked and screamed because he didn't want to go in there," a tearful Barr said in a recent interview. "I just couldn't do it to him. So I said, 'If they won't protect him, I will.'"
Immediately after the incident, Barr took her plight up the chain of command in the city school system. When she did not receive a response, she contacted the mayor's office, the Maryland State Department of Education, and even the U.S. Department of Education, all of whom directed her back to the city school system.
"I felt so empty inside and like I failed," Barr said. "No one would listen to me, no one wanted to hear me, no one wanted to help me."
School officials rebutted Barr's claims of unresponsiveness but said they couldn't discuss the case specifically. They said parents' frustration usually is a result of administrators not being able to disclose disciplinary actions that are taken against other students.
But special-education advocates said Barr's experience is shared by many.
"It's appalling," Leslie Margolis, an attorney with the Maryland Disability Law Center, said of Marcus' case. "This is not the first time we have heard of families reporting abusiveness and a lack of response on the part of school systems, and that is unacceptable."