Detroit district, school officials were slow to act on Moses Field abuse incidents, parents allege

A person stands in front of a microphone while standing next to two people who are sitting down.

A group of parents of students with special education needs claim that Detroit school district officials and administrators attempted to cover up incidents of abuse in school involving their children earlier this year.

The parents are accusing the district and administrators at Moses Field School of “not reporting substantiated incidents of abuse to Children’s Protective Services, failing to immediately remove the abusers from the school, allowing students to suffer for months, and withholding information from parents,” according to a press release from Southfield-based Spectrum Legal Services shared on Wednesday. They said they’re planning to sue the district and school officials.

Three of the four parents spoke at a news conference Thursday, alongside Spectrum lawyers, who are representing the parents.

Tanisha Floyd, mother of a 12-year-old student at Moses Field, said she received a call from a district investigator only in early June, stating that her daughter had been “one of those children that had been left in a restraint chair for hours, neglected and abused” earlier in the year.

Restraint chairs are typically used to help students with certain disabilities with sitting upright. But state law prohibits restraining children with any type of device.

“I was super furious, because no one told me anything,” Floyd said. “I’m just hearing about this. This was (an investigation) that was going on in February of this year. It was just heart-dropping to even hear about it, because my child is nonverbal and doesn’t walk on her own, so she needs help with everything.”

Allegations of child abuse at Moses Field, one of the district’s centers for students with special education needs, surfaced publicly in April following a report by news outlet Detroit Native Sun. 

At the time of the report, Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, told Chalkbeat that district officials learned of the allegations in January and quickly moved to place two paraeducators accused of abuse on administrative leave pending an investigation.

In an emailed statement Thursday, district spokesperson Chrystal Wilson said that the district investigation “revealed improper conduct by both employees, one of which is facing criminal charges; both employees are no longer employed by the District.”

“At this point, there is no evidence that school or Central Office administration failed to report abuse against children at the school,” Wilson said. “The District is prepared to defend itself through facts in Court, if necessary.”

Last week, the DPSCD school board voted to fire one of the two paraeducators, Felicia Perkins. Perkins, who is facing criminal charges, allegedly “grabbed a 12-year-old boy by the back of the neck, choked him, and pulled him out of the cafeteria while holding the back of his neck” in January, according to a spokesperson from the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office.

Tina Gross, who identified herself as the mother of that 12-year-old boy, said that she only heard about the incident two days later, when Principal Derrick Graves told her that her son had been “grabbed up by the collar.” She said she understood the full details of the situation only after she received a letter notifying her that she had to appear in court on July 18 as a witness.

Spectrum attorney Michael Fortner, who is part of the team representing the parents, said that the parents are calling for the firing of Graves and other administrators and staff at Moses Field who were involved in or aware of the abuse. Both Gross and Floyd claim that Graves failed to properly notify them about the incidents and that in both cases he dismissed media reports about the alleged abuse. Chalkbeat attempted to reach Graves via email ahead of publication.

Michigan’s child protection law requires school administrators to report any suspicions of child abuse or neglect to the state’s Children’s Protective Services program.

“We’ve got some very serious allegations going on that need to be investigated not only by the police but by the school board, and there needs to be some accountability,” said Fortner. “The school board needs to show up and explain what they’re doing so that this doesn’t continue to happen under the Vitti administration.”

DPSCD school board President Angelique Peterson-Mayberry referred Chalkbeat to the district’s statement Thursday afternoon. 

Fortner said he expects the lawsuit to be filed by early next week.

All of the parents who spoke Thursday said they would not send their child back to Moses Field. Floyd said she would like to see justice for all the children affected and a change in school leadership. 

Fighting back tears, she added that in the past several months she had noticed her daughter act out emotionally.

“In the morning, she would cry, saying that she didn’t want to go to school, she just wanted to stay home,” Floyd said. “Looking back on all the information that I’m getting now, (my daughter) was acting out because she was scared. She wanted somebody to be there to help her. So I am very upset that they didn’t do what they were supposed to do.”

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

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