Jonathan’s Law

The Carey family of New York State has been promoting “Jonathan’s Law,” a proposal to make records concerning the care of disabled children available to the child’s parents.

The Careys are promoting this law after the state’s Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities kept them from viewing records relating to the investigation of allegations that their autistic son Jonathan was physically abused while attending a private school specializing in the education of autistic youngsters. Jonathan was unable to speak, and as such, he could not tell his parents what had happened to him at school.

The Careys removed Jonathan from the school in question and enrolled him in another. As this story shows, Jonathan liked his new school.

Tragically, last Thursday, Jonathan was killed while in the second school’s care. As the Albany Times Union reports the story:

The 13-year-old child who died while being transported from the O.D. Heck Developmental Center was the same boy who was allegedly abused while a resident of the Anderson School in Dutchess County in 2004, his parents confirmed to the Times Union today.

Mike and Lisa Carey said authorities told them their son, Jonathan, was inappropriately restrained by two O.D. Heck workers in a transport van Thursday night going through Colonie and couldn’t be revived.”We are devastated,” Mike Carey sobbed. “He was such a special human being. Jonathan loved Jesus. And maybe this is the Lord’s way of getting Jonathan’s law passed as soon as possible.”

The two center employees — identified by town police as Edwin Tirado, 35, of 1634 6th Ave., Schenectady, and Nadeem Mall, 32, 9 Plaske Drive, Schenectady — have been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

The two men drove around for 1 1/2 hours after the boy stopped breathing said Colonie Police Chief Steven Heider in an afternoon press conference. They went to a Hess Mart for drinks and then drove to a toy store in Mohawk Commons, a short distance from O.D. Heck, to buy a video game and drop it off at Tirado’s Schenectady home.

Mall was driving a van to take the 13-year-old and a 14-year-old patient from O.D. Heck to Crossgates Mall. They first stopped at the Hannaford on Wolf Road so that Mall could get cash from an ATM. When he returned, Heider said, Tirado was restraining the boy in the back seat of the van.

The boy soon stopped breathing. “The two adults rendered no aid and they did not return to O.D. Heck for an hour and a half,” Heider said.

More than two hours after they left for the mall, they finally returned and told O.D. Heck workers they had a medical emergency. Efforts were made to revive the boy there, and he was then taken to St. Clare’s Hospital where he was pronounced dead…

I have not read Jonathan’s Law, and would not make a recommendation regarding its passage unless I had, but I hope legislators will keep in mind the very special circumstances of children who, due to age or disability, cannot tell their parents about the things that happen to them. Regardless of how it comes about, Jonathan’s parents deserve to know the full story of what happened to him — in both schools. I do not believe the government at any level has the right to withhold information about a child from his parents. It is shocking to me that it even tries.

As a matter of deterrence, persons who work with nonverbal individuals should know that the government won’t cover up details in the event they abuse their charges. In my experience, most people who work with special students like Jonathan are wonderful, committed folks who work very hard and shower their students with a lot of loving care. Unfortunately, it would be naive to assume that those who would hurt a child wouldn’t be emboldened by the fact that a nonverbal child can’t tell anyone about the abuse.

Everyone deserves to be safe. Thos who cannot help protect themselves need extra protection, including sufficient transparency of records to permit their families to know everything it is possible to know about the quality of their care.

In closing, here’s an article with a picture of Jonathan. My heart goes out to his family

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