"Serious Child Abuse, Petty Concerns" by Bill Lichtenstein
The town of Lexington, Mass. hired a real genius to help them handle the fallout from the national spotlight that has been put on their decade long institutional abuse of children in their care, otherwise known as “isolation rooms and restraints,” which has come to light in the wake of my September 9, 2012 Sunday New York Times story “A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children.”
My daughter was locked in a closet repeatedly while in Lexington (Ma.) Kindergarten for over three months ending in 2006. They bullied her, and now they think they can bully me.
Karen Schwartzman is a self-proclaimed “crisis consultant” who is getting paid at least $5,000 in Lexington taxpayer money according to the Boston Globe. Most crisis consultants I know will tell you to take energy out of a bad situation by being transparent. Ms. Schwartzman apparently doesn’t subscribe to that. She just called me a liar in the Boston Globe today, but refuses to back up her claims with facts. She didn't even return a call I made to her to discuss this matter.
What has Ms. Schwatzman on the charge today is that national press, like Time magazine, is picking up my New York Sunday Times story of the use of restraints and seclusion in schools around the country, including in Lexington, where now, in the wake of the Times article, other parents have come forward to say it happened to their kids, as well.
Lexington has been haranguing Sewell Chan, a deputy opinion section editor at the New York Times, who is handling my article, along with reporters at other news outlets covering this story, including the Boston Globe and New England Cable News, about nit-picky details of my story. Today, Sewell Chan and the New York Times released an “Editor’s Note,” which is different than a “Correction” or “Clarification,” to address Ms. Schwartzman’s nit-pickiness. Now, she has something to run with.
In addition to her unsubstantiated, ad hominem attacks on me, here’s Schwartzman's complaints about my article, according to reporters who have talked with her:
1) That no 12 year old, “special ed” kid could have said the words, which I attributed to my kind daughter in the story, as a description of those who abused her: “They weren’t bad people; they just didn’t know about working with children.” Schwartzman disputes those words could have come from a special needs child. For the record, Rose said it.
2) The town of Lexington vehemently maintained Rose was not locked in the isolation room for up to an hour at a time, but instead it would be for 12 five minute time-outs in a row, with someone checking on her when each five minutes would pass on the egg timer they were using.
3) Schwartzman claims the padded room Rose was locked in was not a closet but in fact a “meeting room used by teachers for one-on-one instruction,” as quoted in the Boston Globe today. You can judge for yourself by looking at photos of the basement closet/isolation room at the bottom of: www.terrifyingdiscipline.com
4) Lexington initially claimed that I lied when I said I reported Rose’s abuse in school to state agencies, including the Mass. Department of Children and Families (DCF), which is responsible for investigating child abuse. The town backed off that stance when I produced the report logs from DCF showing I filed reports in March and April 2007, which were confirmed with DCF by Times deputy opinion page editor Chan. Now Schwartzman is disputing that my reports were made “at the time,” as stated in the article, meaning the period from when Rose was abused in 2006 through the legal action in 2007 and the settlement in 2008.
After days of deliberation about the meaning of the phrase “at the time,” the likes of which I have not been a part since freshman literature (“at the time” can refer to a millennium or a moment depending on the context) deputy opinion page editor Chan at The Times gave Lexington the call on this one in his “Editor’s Note."
5) Schwartzman and Lexington contend that the room in which Rose was locked was technically not the basement of the school, as I had reported in the story. Deputy opinion page editor Chan says Lexington sent him blueprints that used the word “ Mezzanine" for the sub-ground floor, likely because no parent would want their kid going to class in the basement of a school. It still looks like a basement stairwell to me. See photos at bottom of www.terrifyingdiscipline.com In any case, if I were a 5-year old kid, I wouldn’t want to be locked in a closet like that for an hour at a time.
6) Lexington insisted that, contrary to what I wrote in my article, the door could be opened from the inside. I produced the photos of the door knob that I took the day we found Rose in the room in 2006. I had even gone inside that day to try the door myself and found you could not turn the knob from the inside. This was consistent with the reports that Rose, while in the room, had tried to get out or had called for help, but was unable to free herself from the closet. On this point, Chan sided with me against Lexington.
7) Lexington's final point of contention was the condition in which Rose was found on January 6, 2006, as described in my article.
Chan in his "Editor's Notes" details new information, including Lexington’s claim that a nanny was called to take Rose home (Lexington previously stated that they called the parents), and Chan cites a line from a 2008 deposition in which Rose's mother, Ms. Peoples says “At that point, they had gotten Rose dressed and I took her home." However, Chan goes far beyond that in his editor's note, writing that the deposition says Ms. Peoples stated "that it was not the case that the parents found her standing alone, unclothed, in her urine." She did not say that, and readers can see for themselves in the deposition now posted at www.TerrifyingDiscipline.com
Editor’s notes are a window onto the editorial process and add additional information and transparency to the story and the process of its editing, which is good. The background information in this editor's note does not, however, change any of the facts nor the point of the story.
The New York Times stands by the story, and has neither retracted the story, issued a correction, nor made changes to it. I stand by the story, as well.
As a final point, Chan in his “Editor’s Note” references perhaps the most serious issue in front of him and the fact checker at the New York Times right now: the failure to have spoken with Rose's mother, Ms. Peoples, before publication.
Today, Lexington’s Ms. Schwartzman put her foot in it by calling me a liar in the pages of the Boston Globe. One would hope that at least some of this attention in the town would focus on the safety and welfare of kids.
In the meantime, if anyone knows a great libel attorney, let me know. Bill@LCMedia.com ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Sunday New York Times article “A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children” has sparked a national debate about the practice of restraints and seclusion in schools.