The Office of Civil Rights is investigating Lowcountry Montessori School in Port Royal following a complaint that the school secluded and restrained students with disabilities.
OCR, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, opened the inquiry into disability discrimination on Jan. 25, according to a department spokesman. The agency declined to release other details while the case is active.
In an email, Lowcountry Montessori director Amy Horn wrote that the school was aware of the complaint, which she said was filed by a former employee.
“It is our position that the complaint has no merit and we are cooperatively working with OCR’s request and will continue to be until the complaint is resolved,” Horn said.
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That employee, former Lowcountry Montessori administrator Brandon Smith, said he spoke with OCR in January, in part about the same incident he reported to Port Royal Police just before he left the school in November.
Smith, who worked as an assistant director for just about four months, declined to comment further.
According to the police report, a 7-year-old boy assaulted a substitute teacher Nov. 4 by kicking and striking her. Smith, who called the police that morning, told officers the child “had a history of violent outbursts and that he had been separated from his class in order to deal with his outburst.”
The assault began in the classroom, with the child punching the teacher’s arm and leg, and escalated while the substitute and child waited in a room in the administrative building, she told police.
There, the boy struck the substitute three times each with a chair and a lamp. She was uninjured.
Horn, the director, told police the boy’s behavior had been an ongoing challenge and that she had arranged counseling for him. The incident was handled within the school and the case was cleared.
OCR would not confirm whether it was investigating that particular incident. The police report did not mention a disability.
Online, the office states it acts a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing evidence from all parties, conducting interviews, and visiting sites when necessary.
If the office determines a school violated a civil rights law, it will first try to negotiate a resolution and monitor the school’s steps toward compliance. If that fails, the office may work to halt the school’s federal funding or refer the case to the Department of Justice.
The school has faced other troubles in the past year. In June, it was found to be non-compliant by the S.C. Public Charter School District because it did not meet state credentialing requirements.
In November, the district said it expected the school to fix the problem by the end of the 2015-16 school year.