State Politics

After Sun Herald investigation, new laws proposed to protect disabled Mississippians

A bill up for a vote in the Mississippi House would make it a felony to restrict a vulnerable or disabled person’s airway, as was the case in an assault on a former St. Martin Middle School special needs student at the hands of her teacher.

State Rep. Carolyn Crawford, R-Pass Christian, authored that legislation, HB 1077, and others in an effort to add more safeguards against the abuse of vulnerable persons and others with or without disabilities.

She began working on the legislation after the Sun Herald broke the story last year on an assault of a former St. Martin Middle School special education student by a former special education teacher and bus driver.

“We brag about our schools on the Coast all the time but to know what happened one county away from where my (special needs) child goes to school hit really close to home,” Crawford said. “The long-lasting effects that will have on that child is something that cannot be undone. There is nothing you can do to take it back.

“Whatever her level of intellectual disability, she still has feelings,” said Crawford said. “She is going to hurt for a long time. Her trust, I’m sure, has been shattered.”

The Sun Herald report included exclusive video footage of the assault. The video shows former special education teacher Kerri Anne Nettles twice stuffing a towel in the special needs student’s mouth and telling her to shut up and stop moving around in her seat on the school bus.

In other footage, former bus driver Antioinette Jane Raymond threatens to take the student to jail, choke or even kill her before she races over to the child’s seat on the bus and sits on top of the student to get her to stop talking and moving in her seat.

Both Nettles and Raymond faced misdemeanor offenses for the acts, sparking outrage among parents of special needs children who have called for new laws to better protect students with or without disabilities.

Other proposed legislation includes:

A bill that would give school board members the authority to fire a school superintendent if he or she fails to report such incidents of abuse to the Mississippi Department of Education as was the case in the assault on the disabled St. Martin student.

HB 1046, which would deny or revoke the license of teachers and administrators for physically abusing or having inappropriate sexual involvement with students.

HB 638, which would impose penalties for the failure of school superintendents to report such incidents of abuse to the Mississippi Department of Education.

HB 1182, which would prohibit the use of corporal punishment for discipline on a child with disabilities.

A bill to mandate superintendent’s report alleged abuse to MDE at the same time they report the incidents to local law enforcement agencies.

HB 840, which would mandate security cameras in classrooms for special needs students.

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