Allegations that John Archer School Principal Deborea Montgomery dragged an unnamed student face down by his legs through the school lobby and outdoors onto the concrete have prompted an investigation by Harford County Public Schools, according to HCPS spokeswoman Teri Kranefeld. John Archer School is the only public special education school serving students with disabilities in Harford County.
The allegations were among several claims of abuse at John Archer that were made public at a March 12th school board meeting. In a separate allegation, parent Janice Wright told school board members about an incident where her son, Matthew, was illegally restrained at the school. Wright said in an interview that a police investigation in October found that her son was put in danger of “positional asphyxia.” She has since removed her son from HCPS. Other John Archer parents told school board members that they were concerned for their own children’s safety in light of what happened to Matthew.
John Archer parent Frank Janczak said that parents were trying to get answers, but staff members and contracted transportation workers were under a “gag order” by the school administration. Kranefeld later denied that a gag order was placed on anyone.
The alleged dragging of a student by Principal Montgomery reportedly occurred in 2009 and was brought to light in an anonymous letter sent to parent Janice Wright from a person claiming to be a staff member at John Archer. Wright mentioned the claim in her March 12th comments to the school board, which included the allegations involving her son.
The anonymous letter writer claimed to be among several witnesses to the dragging incident, which involved a student who was not Wright’s son. The dragging allegedly occurred when the unnamed student would not walk to his bus during dismissal.
Appearing to corroborate the anonymous letter, Don Endlich, who said that he was a John Archer para-educator from 2005 to 2010, told The Dagger in an interview that in 2009 he also saw a student who was lying on the floor being pulled down a hallway by Principal Montgomery. Endlich, whose granddaughter currently attends John Archer, said the hallway led to the school lobby and outer doors.
Anonymous letters and Wright’s allegations concerning her son, Matthew, have been circulating in the school community and apparently prompted a March 6th letter to parents from Principal Montgomery.
In the letter, Montgomery writes to parents that “unfounded allegations” against staff were distributed via email and on social media sites and, “anonymous letters sent to our administration do not allow us to follow the prescribed protocol in working directly with the concerned person to remediate their issue, therefore we do not respond to anonymous letters.” The principal’s letter welcomes parents to visit the school at any time without an appointment.
According to HCPS spokeswoman Teri Kranefeld, Janice Wright’s allegations that her son Matthew was illegally restrained did result in a police investigation, but the charges were not prosecuted.
Monica Worrell, spokeswoman for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office said that the police reports in the case were not releasable to the media, citing the Family Law Act regarding reports of child abuse or neglect involving a minor.
However, police reports provided to The Dagger by Wright confirm that her son Matthew was restrained at the school on October 14th in a device called a “Tumble Form Grasshopper”, when he dropped to the ground and refused to walk. Wright said in an interview that the 14-year-old is less than 4’6” tall and weighs 75 pounds.
Wright said that Matthew was strapped into the device with his hands behind his back and incorrectly placed lying down on his stomach, rather than on his back, leaving his chin elevated on a pillow-like wedge without support from his arms. Wright said that she did not give the school permission to use the device and she later found out that it had been used on Matthew on more than one occasion since the school year began. She also said that Matthew had an unexplained bruise on his leg earlier in the school year and that he sustained a torn tendon that she believes was from the use of the device.
The October investigation conducted by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office concludes:
“It is the opinion of this investigator that the position Mathew was placed in, with his arms strapped at his side and torso elevated, [p]ut him in a position placing him in danger of ‘positional asphyxia’. This danger is compounded by the fact that Mathew is non verbal.
Based on this investigation there is no indication that anyone involved had intent to abuse Matthew and after a discussion with [Assistant State’s Attorney Diana Brooks] it was determined that, based on the evidence, no crime was committed.
Based on the facts of this case it would appear that this incident is a result of poor training in the use of the Tumble Form Grasshopper, and it appears that, since the device is described as a therapeutic device, that it was not intended to be used as a transport device.
This case is closed.”
Below is the letter to parents from Principal Montgomery:
Below is the anonymous letter sent to former John Archer parent Janice Wright: