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Teachers Allege Sexual Abuse by Special Needs Students

Teachers Allege Sexual Abuse by Special Needs Students


Three young teachers at a Denver school for kids with severe behavioral issues were sexually assaulted regularly by students and ignored by administrators when they sought help, according to a new lawsuit being brought by the women.

The three women, recent college graduates who were determined to work with children with special needs, said that for months, they were “groped, grabbed, and choked” at The Laradon School, a nonprofit with about 70 students in north Denver. 

Repeatedly Choked and More

Paraprofessional Victoria Schmidt was repeatedly assaulted by a 13-year-old boy in her classroom, including when he “grabbed her in a hallway, placed her in a chokehold so tight that she feared she would die, and stuck his hand deep inside her pants and underwear,” according to the lawsuit filed two weeks ago in the Denver District Court. 

The harassment started right at the beginning of the school year, and when Schmidt told other teachers, they reportedly told her they were not surprised since Schmidt was “just the boy’s type, young and pretty.” The abuse went from inappropriate sexual touching to assault. And though Schmidt asked her supervisors for help, their suggestions were ridiculous. She was told by one staff member to stand still and learn to tolerate it when the boy groped her breasts and butt. 

No Training for This

The lawsuit claims that although the school trained staff on how to deal with physical attacks, it offered no training in how to handle sexual aggression from students. All three young women say they were told when they were hired that the school did not admit students with histories of sexually aggressive behavior. 

In an emailed statement to The Colorado Sun, the school said that it has “clear policies and procedures in place to respond to incidents of physical or sexual aggression quickly and consistently.” 

“Despite our best efforts to reach a mutual resolution and underscore our commitment to safety, we are disappointed to learn three former staff members have filed a complaint against Laradon that greatly mischaracterizes our response to incidents that happened while they were employed with us,” the school said. The two students who are accused of the sexual attacks were discharged, said school officials, adding that they would not offer more detail “out of respect for the privacy of those involved.” 

What is a Facility School?

Laradon School has more than 400 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and offers services through its school, adult day program, and other offerings. Its school is one of about 30 “facility schools” in Colorado for kids with intense behavioral, mental health, or special education needs, to rehabilitate them so that they might one day return to traditional classrooms and function in the workplace. 

Facility schools in Colorado have been under scrutiny. They have severe staffing shortages, a lack of funding, and sudden closures. 50 facility schools have shut down in Colorado since 2004.

Schmidt was transferred to another classroom, yet for months, the boy continued to “stalk her in the hallways and classrooms” and sexually assaulted her a second time on the school playground, the lawsuit says.

Outrageous, Abusive Behavior

A few months later, paraprofessional Kendal Lansing and teacher Brooke Swenson were enduring daily sexual harassment by a 12-year-old female student who had a “well-documented history of sexualized behaviors.” Schmidt was assaulted by the same child as well. The student was transferred to Laradon from Tennyson Center for Children, where she had become “too difficult to manage,” according to the lawsuit. 

The girl “engaged in the kind of physical violence and property destruction that is a routine albeit disturbing occurrence at Laradon,” according to the lawsuit, and then, a few months later, her behavior became sexually aggressive. She put her hands into Lansing’s and Swenson’s clothes, grabbed their breasts, punched their genitals, and tried to rip off their clothes, according to the women.

When they asked their supervisors what to do, they were told to “give the student space.” If that didn’t work, they were told to physically restrain her, but that was allowed only in extreme circumstances in which people were in danger. The rules of restraint were never clearly defined for matters of sexual aggression. 

In May 2023, the female student shoved Schmidt against a wall and tried to pull down her pants and underwear. The girl was removed from Schmidt by other staff members. Then the girl sprinted toward Lansing, grabbing her crotch and breasts and tried to get between her legs, according to the lawsuit. 

The same girl also attacked Swenson, kneeing her in the behind and trying to take off her shirt. Swenson said her only resort was to try to hide from the girl. Swenson said she was already in therapy to cope with the physical abuse of the job when the sexual attacks began. 

“I remember talking with my mom, and being like, ‘I don’t know what to do, Mom, I’m getting such bad hair pulls,’” Swenson said in an interview with The Colorado Sun. “She recommended cutting my hair super short so kids couldn’t grab onto it. I eventually wore a really tight knot right at the top of my head.”

Like Talking to a Brick Wall

Swenson said talking to the school’s administration about the abuse was “like talking to a brick wall.” 

“I just wanted to be heard,” she said. “I’m a human, like, listen to me when I tell you that this is happening to me. And just believe me.”

All three women were paid between $17 and $20 per hour and left their jobs at Laradon in the summer of 2023. They all said that never want to work in a facility school again.

Lansing, 25, said she wanted to press charges after the 12-year-old girl violently attacked her for the second time. Even after she switched classrooms, “the student stalked us through the hallways and found me and then sexually assaulted me again before we were able to lock the door to get her away from me,” Lansing said.

According to Lansing, Laradon suggested she take a leave of absence. “And so I did, and then I could never go back again,” she said. She now works as a speech therapist at an elementary school.

Schmidt, 25, said the experience destroyed all the passion she once had for working with children with special needs. “Now I am never going to work with kids again,” she said. “And I never want to work in special education again. I also do not even want to have kids of my own due to the stuff that happened at Laradon.” 

Protect the Children

Schmidt said her goal in suing her former employer was ultimately to protect the children. “When you’re working with a special education child, they can sense if you’re not doing well,” she said. “And it was hard for all of us to sit there and say, ‘Let’s just cover it up. Let’s just get through it.’ Because the kids know it, they deserve a lot more than employees that can barely even function because of how much trauma they have.” 

The lawsuit seeks compensation for mental health treatment, as well as for past and future emotional distress. The women’s attorney, Dan Williams, said he hoped the case would bring awareness to the state of facility schools and lead to protections for children. 

“Honestly, it was just shocking to me to learn about the physical violence and the sexual violence,” he said. “They are just dealing with really fragile kids, and it’s important to get things right for them.”

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Jane Morris

Jane Morris is the pen name of an ex-teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is worried awful administrators will come after her for spilling their dirty little secrets. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in Writing and Literature from an even fancier (and more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh through the tears.

She has written several highly acclaimed books unpacking the reality of teaching and life inside the school system. You can view her full library of works here.