Tacoma parents allege school workers physically assaulted children, including son with autism

TACOMA, Wash. — A Tacoma mother and father accused workers with Tacoma Public Schools of physically assaulting their children multiple times, including the father’s son with autism.

On Monday morning, we spoke with Amanda Silvestro, mother of 8-year-old Paige, who attends Skyline Elementary in Tacoma.

She said she stopped by the school to eat lunch with her daughter last Wednesday. Then, a staff worker approached her daughter.

“The lunch lady just came up to Paige and grabbed her,” she said. “She just came up to Paige and grabbed her by the back of her neck. Essentially, started lowering her more to the floor and got a little bit aggressive in her tone, and said, ‘What did I tell you about going under the table or playing under the table.’ And she just let go and casually told Paige about an earlier incident that happened with her stepbrother.”

Silvestro said the worker later apologized to her for her comment about her daughter’s stepbrother but did not apologize for grabbing her daughter.

“I was very shocked. I just shut down. I didn’t know what to do. I felt horrible because I felt I couldn’t protect her,” she said. “After I processed it after I left, I knew it was wrong and it shouldn’t have happened.”

We also spoke with Lawrence Haskins, the father of 6-year-old Orion who has autism, and 8-year-old Paige. Both attend Skyline Elementary in Tacoma.

Haskins is a founding member of the school’s Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students) program, which aims to provide students support through male role models.

“They would have me go to certain classes and help with math, or I would help at lunches serving lunch, and the kids would get a kick out of it seeing extra male figures on campus,” he said.

He told us that his son was physically assaulted last school year around March.

“When the first incident with Orion happened, I just expected transparency (from the school),” he said.

He said the school’s principal closed the investigation and cleared the teacher, however, three weeks later, he said another incident happened.

“Again used her (teacher’s) body to forcibly push our son to a bookcase and pulled him to the floor in an attempt to make him pick up toys. And again, he’s autistic and non-verbal. So she was frustrated with him being his natural self,” said Haskins.

We asked Haskins about the lunch worker’s alleged comments about his son with autism last Wednesday.

“It seemed that because she talked to Paige’s mother about Orion’s meltdown, it seems as if she was irritated about his meltdown and wanted to somehow send, who she thought was Paige’s mom, a message about our kids’ behavior,” he said.

Haskins said he believes the two incidents involving his son happened in large part due to a lack of support and resources for students with special needs.

“My personal experience of being in those classrooms and helping with lunches, there is literally not enough hands there,” he said.

We also asked Haskins if he believes the district has enough training for staff members to support students with special needs.

“No, no absolutely 100% not. Because if there were, what happened with our son would have never happened,” he said. “So, people who really care about autistic kids and appreciate and respect the nature of the person on that level of humanity, they’re not going to get all flustered because of his outbursts because they understand that’s part of the nature of who he is.”


We reached out to the school district to get further details, including if the district has enough resources to support students with special needs.

Tanisha Jumper, Chief Communications Officer for TPS, declined an in-person interview and did not address our specific questions; however, she provided the following statement on behalf of the school district.

We value the safety and well-being of all our students and take any allegations of misconduct seriously. The District is currently looking into these allegations brought to our attention concerning a staff member. The District is committed to conducting a thorough investigation and ensuring that our school environment remains a safe place for our students and all members of our community. - TPS


We further looked into the policies around this.

According to the ACLU, a national civil rights and civil liberties organization, Washington state law states that “School district personnel are prohibited from physically restraining or isolating any student, except when a student’s behavior poses an imminent likelihood of serious harm.”

The likelihood of serious harm means a substantial risk that:

  • “Physical harm will be inflicted by a person upon his or her own person,” ( i.e. suicide or self-harm).
  • “Physical harm will be inflicted upon another person,” (e.g. behavior that places fear of harm in others, like school fights or threat of assault on the teacher).
  • “Physical harm will be inflicted upon property of others, as evidenced by behavior that has caused substantial loss or damage to the property of others,” (e.g. throwing a computer or shattering a window).
  • Threats to the physical safety of another person when one has a history of violent acts.

According to the Tacoma Public Schools district policy, restraint may only be used to control spontaneous behavior that poses a risk of serious harm and must be stopped as soon as that risk is gone.

For children with disabilities, restraint can only be used as part of a student’s individualized plan.