I-Team: Mother Seeks Justice After Staff Takes Lewd Pictures and Videos of Students at NY School for Autism - NBC New York
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I-Team: Mother Seeks Justice After Staff Takes Lewd Pictures and Videos of Students at NY School for Autism

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    Lewd Pictures and Videos Taken at School For Autistic Students

    After a 19-year-old staffer at Springbrook, a school for severely autistic children, took a picture of a 16-year-old student in the bath, more incidents of similar behavior were reported with other employees and students. Now the mother of one of the victims is suing in an effort to prevent the unconscionable act from happening to somebody else. The I-Team's Pei-Sze Cheng reports.

    (Published Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019)

    What to Know

    • A mother is seeking justice for her son after a staff member at a NY school for students with autism took photos of her son taking a bath

    • Maggie Shaw was called to the Springbrook school after his aide posted the photo of her non-verbal son, along with a laughing emoji

    • The staffer pleaded guilty and sent to jail for sixty days, but the school denies any wrongdoing

    Nineteen-year-old Blake Shaw is severely autistic and non-verbal. He lives 200 miles away from the rest of his family where he attends Springbrook, a special school for autistic children. He is unable to hold conversations with others, and unable to speak up when something happens.

    “I regret it, I regret sending him there,” said Blake’s mother, Maggie. “I regret that I couldn’t keep him home and I couldn’t take care of him myself.”

    Maggie received a call from the school that she was needed at Springbrook because something had happened to Blake. When she arrived, it was the New York State Police who met with her.

    “They showed me a picture, it was Blake, naked laying in a bathtub with an emoji over his privates,” said Maggie. “Then they told me it was shared on Snapchat. The emoji was 'laughing so hard, I’m crying.'"

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    Shakari Coss, Blake’s aide, had posted the picture on her Snapchat account. She was arrested in August 2017. For Otsego County District Attorney John Muehle, this was the ultimate betrayal

    “I was disgusted by it couldn’t believe that somebody who was out in a position of trust would do that,” said DA Muehle. “Best I can do is give them a max sentence.”

    Coss pleaded guilty to endangerment and spent 60 days in jail. This incident had Blake's mother Maggie second guessing her decision to send her son to Springbrook — but of the dozens of applications she filed for him, she says Springbrook was the only school to accept him.

    “Who are they hiring? What is the criteria for them to care for them? Are they trained? Are they educated? Are they compassionate? Do they value dignity? I don’t know,” said Maggie.

    “It’s horrible, there’s no question,” said Patricia Kennedy, the executive director of Springbrook. The school has roughly 100 students and more than half of them hail from the New York metro area.

    “Every day I have 1,400 people who do the right thing, and when someone does the wrong thing, we report it,” said Kennedy. She believes they handled this correctly and says Coss violated the school’s policy which prohibits staff from taking pictures.

    The I-Team was unable to reach Coss who was 19 when she was assigned to care for Blake, then 16. Kennedy says no policy changes were made after Coss’s arrest but a year and a half later, two more women, also working as aides, did the same thing. They posted videos of residents naked in the shower on Snapchat. The aides can be heard yelling and laughing in the video.

    Those women pled guilty to felony endangerment and spent six months in jail. After these arrests, Springbrook installed lockboxes at every residence, where employees are now required to leave their phones.

    “I don’t think Springbrook did anything wrong,” Kennedy told the I-Team. “Those individuals did something wrong.”

    Maggie disagrees, and is now suing the school and Blake’s former aide. Blake continues to attend Springbrook because Maggie says there is no space at other programs. She is fighting to move him to a school that is closer to home.

    “Here where the children are more vulnerable to abuse,” said attorney Joe Donnelly, “The people that are taking care of them don’t seem to have the same requisite education and experience to handle them.”

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