Mother says son with disabilities was abused in afterschool program

BERNE — A Berne-Knox-Westerlo parent says that her son was mistreated by instructors before being removed from a Capital District YMCA after-school program held at the secondary school in Berne.

In a letter sent to The Enterprise editor, Ashlee Overbaugh said that her 9-year-old son, a student with disabilities, after being bullied by other students during the after-school program, ran out of the room and into an open locker. She said that, while her son never closed the locker door all the way — he is afraid of the dark — a staff member who is also a BKW high school student locked him in there for a few minutes.

“He was screaming and crying and asking her to let him out,” she wrote.

“When I asked about the incident, she came right out and told me that she did this, but acted like it was no big deal,” Overbaugh writes.

She said that, after he was let out of the locker, her son, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and other disabilities, had a mental breakdown due to his disabilities and started to throw things around the room. She said that a second staff member, also a student, began filming him on her cellphone and egging him on. The next day, she said, the site director told her that her son was removed from the program due to his actions.

Overbaugh told The Enterprise that she spoke to the school about the incident, which she said occurred on March 14, but was told that the program is separate from the district.

BKW’s superintendent, Timothy Mundell, did not return a call seeking comment.

Overbaugh said that the site director had contacted her on Friday, March 15, to tell her that her son had a “major incident” and wouldn’t be able to attend the program that afternoon.

View from the YMCA

Erin Breslin, the director of marketing and membership at the Capital District YMCA, said that, while the YMCA’s childcare program does provide for children with individualized education programs — meaning students who have been identified as having disabilities — sometimes the staff has to tell parents that their child needs a higher level of care than the YMCA program can provide, as in this case.

She said that it can be disheartening for both the parents and the staff.

“We are not able to help all the children in our program, unfortunately,” she said.

Breslin said that the program follows a school district’s protocol, but is also separate from the school district and regulated independently as a childcare provider rather than a school entity.

She said that, when Overbaugh’s son was closed in a locker, it had been seen as something fun or fooling around by the staff members. He was released as soon as it became apparent he was in distress, she said.

Breslin added that it could be fairly argued that the staff made a mistake and “shouldn’t have been kidding around.”

Breslin said that Overbaugh’s son has a pattern of behavior, and said that the way he acted on March 14 is not an isolated incident. She said that, when he began to have a breakdown after being closed in the locker, the staff members may not have been as quick as they should have been in intervening as they are trained to do.

But Breslin said that his past behavior might have made them hesitate, knowing they may not be as successful in calming him down. Breslin said that she was not aware of any filming of the incident.

Life rearranged

Overbaugh herself works at a daycare center, in Guilderland.

With her son removed from the Berne program, Overbaugh said that she is out of sensible options for after-school care for her children. She has four sons, three of whom were enrolled in the program, and she took her two other sons out of the program as well, saying that it didn’t make sense to leave them in the paid program when she would be home anyway.

She couldn’t use the Bulldog Club, she said, referring to an after-school program run by the district, because it doesn’t offer care on Fridays.

The YMCA charges members $280 a month for the BKW program and nonmembers $330 a month. Overbaugh said that she is not a YMCA member.

Overbaugh said that she now leaves her daycare-center job three hours early each day in order to be there when her children get home from school. This has reduced her pay.

The Guilderland center she works at has an after-school program, but she said it is too far to transport her sons to in the middle of her workday.

Once the summer comes, she hopes to enroll her children in a program at her workplace.

Investigation

Overbaugh said she contacted the Albany County Office of Children and Family Services, which regulates childcare programs, about what happened to her son.

Lynn Siebert, the executive director of childcare at the Capital District YMCA, said that the investigation began on Friday, March 15, as the agency is required to investigate within 24 hours of an incident.

An image of a letter from the agency to Overbaugh states that a report of suspected child abuse has been “indicated,” meaning that there is some credible evidence a child was abused or maltreated.

The report will remain in the New York State Child Abuse and Maltreatment Register, the letter states.

Information on the New York State OCFS website shows that an inspection following the complaint found that the program was in violation of regulation 414.15(b)(4) — “The staff and volunteers must be in good health and be of good character and habits” — but that this violation was corrected.

Breslin said that the findings from the OCFS investigation matched up with the YMCA’s findings: Overbaugh’s son was not punitively locked in the locker, but that staff could have had quicker reactions to what occurred.

Breslin said it has been a “teachable moment” for staff.

Siebert said it was also confirmed that the behavior of Overbaugh’s son was not an isolated incident. She said that additional training has been scheduled for the staff since the incident occurred.

Siebert said that staff members at the YMCA’s childcare program can be age 16 or older. All staff are fingerprinted, undergo multiple background checks, and are given 15 hours of training in their first six months on the job, she said.

The two high school staff members involved in the incident have been a part of the BKW program since the beginning of the school year and are overseen by a director, said Siebert. The three staff members together supervise 20 children, and none of the staff are allowed to be alone with any of the children.

Earlier violations

In 2017, according to the state OCFS database, two of the four inspections that took place at the program housed at BKW found violations. In 2018, two of the three inspections revealed violations. All violations were corrected.

A July 12, 2017 inspection revealed two violations, one related to conditions that could cause a fire hazard and another related to conditions that could cause a safety or health hazard. Both violations were corrected.

A Nov. 1, 2017 inspection revealed three violations, one relating to either a firearm on campus or the lack of a sign prohibiting such, as it is not clear from the report what section of the regulation was violated; another one was related to staff and volunteers submitting medical forms, with a related violation over doing childcare work before the form was submitted. All three violations were corrected.

An Oct. 23, 2018 inspection revealed a violation for staff who are certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation not having their certification available at work for review.

A Dec. 18, 2018 inspection revealed eight violations, related to: evacuation drills being conducted monthly; maintaining files of each evacuation drill; the director conducting monthly inspections for fire hazards; returning medication to a parent when it is no longer required by a child; developing an individual healthcare plan for a child; having a staff member with CPR and first-aid certification; having a copy of a certificate from an insurance company; and having on file the building’s certificate of occupancy. All violations were corrected.

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