ST. LOUIS – The Missouri Department of Social Services has reopened a case involving young kids with disabilities after it was discovered the state may have cut corners in the investigation.
The allegations of physical restraint with zip ties were made against a teacher in mid-Missouri. FOX 2 is not identifying the teacher or school district they work for because the state originally found they did nothing wrong.
In an email obtained by us, State Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch (R) formally requested the Missouri Department of Social Services reopen the investigation into the allegations, days after FOX 2’s investigation aired into the possible missteps by the state.
“I would like for your department to watch the below TV story that aired on this incident,” she wrote.
Reisch said she was just informed that the state had reopened the case.
“I take these allegations very seriously and want all agencies involved at the local and state level to do everything in their power that a complete and thorough investigation be done, no matter where the facts may lead,” Reisch said.
Holly, whose last name will not be disclosed, said it’s about time the state investigated this the right way. She said that in January, her 9-year-old daughter, who has autism, shared concerns about her friend allegedly being tied up by a teacher. She recorded what happened next.
Holly: "When she went to the closet to get these out, what did she do with them?" Daughter: "She tied [child's name] with these."
“I asked her to explain that, and she showed me with her hands and she showed me with her feet together,” Holly previously said.
Holly said the Children’s Division never called in a forensic interviewer, someone who’s trained to interview kids with disabilities about the alleged abuse.
Records obtained by FOX 2 reveal the state found ‘insufficient evidence’ of the allegations being made. The state reported no witnesses, no restraints were found in the classroom, and there was an unobscured window into the room.
“Due to limited verbal skills and cognitive functioning, [child] was unable to provide a clear picture of his experience in relation to the allegations,” the state investigator wrote in the report.
Missouri KidsFirst Executive Director Jessica Seitz said it’s vital that whenever there’s an allegation of abuse, the state calls in a forensic interviewer, someone who’s specifically trained to interview children with disabilities about allegations of abuse.
FOX 2 asked Seitz and a forensic interviewer to watch the videos of the kids describing what they claimed happened.
“I think the system didn’t respond appropriately,” Seitz said. “Given the nature of this case, I strongly recommend this case be reopened and the children be referred to a child advocacy center for a forensic interview.”
The Children’s Division could not comment, saying cases are confidential under Missouri law.
Holly said the state has scheduled a forensic interview with the kids.
“I think this story from FOX 2 has been very huge in them reopening [the case] because it has not only brought attention to our children’s issues, but it’s happening everywhere, and that we have to come up with things to safeguard our kids,” Holly said.
A spokesperson for the school district issued a statement, writing that it takes “proactive steps to protect students.”
“The safety and well-being of all our students are our top priorities, and the district will always take proactive steps to protect our students from harm. Whenever an allegation is made, the district follows board policy and law. The district will continue to cooperate with investigations conducted by outside agencies and complete internal investigations to ensure our students are safe as they learn, as we always have.”