Two Alabama teachers have been put on administrative leave after the mother of a 10-year-old student with cerebral palsy attached an audio recorder to the bottom of his wheelchair and caught them scolding him about drooling, among other things.
Jose Salinas, or as his friends and family call him, "Little Joe," is in fourth grade at Wicksburg High School, a public school in Newton, Ala. Jose has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair at school, but is high-functioning and can walk with a walker and loves to talk at home about Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
His mother, Melisha Salinas, a nursing student, knew he didn't enjoy school and would come home sick many days, but he would tell her he had a "good day" every day when she asked.
"We knew he hated going to school. We tried every medical test we could think of, but we never could find anything wrong," she said.
A psychologist told Salinas, 31, the problem could be stress or anxiety, but she didn't know the source.
One day, a little girl in Jose's class who lives in the neighborhood told Salinas that the teacher's aide had been mean to Jose three times that day. Salinas got Jose to confirm two of the instances, but wanted to be sure.
"I went ahead and put a recorder on his wheelchair to make sure for myself," Salinas said.
She recorded several days of class in mid-March and was "shocked" with what she heard.
"You drooled on the paper," teacher's aide Drew Faircloth could be heard saying impatiently. "That's disgusting."
"Keep your mouth closed and don't drool on my paper," teacher Alicia Brown said on the tape. "I do not want to touch your drool. Do you understand that? Obviously, you don't."
Over the three days of recordings, Salinas said Jose received about 20 minutes of actual instruction and spent almost the entire day sitting in silence with no one speaking to him.
"I could not believe someone would treat a child that way, much less a special needs child," Melisha Salinas told ABCNews.com. "The anger in his voices ... and the thing he was getting angry about, [Jose] just can't help."
"Why is my paper wet?" Brown demanded. "Look at me and answer. That's not an answer. That's not even a word."
"Do you seen anybody else at this table drooling? Then, stop," she said. "You have got drool all over your face and it is gross."
After Salinas listened to the recordings, she took Jose out of school. She said that when Jose is at home, she can't get him to stop talking, but in the tapes he was "dead silent."
"It broke my heart. He had probably been going through that for almost two years," Salinas said of the time Jose has been in the care of the teacher and aide.
"I've heard all 16 hours of [the recording]," Houston County Schools superintendent Tim Pitchford told ABCNews.com. "Very disturbing, as far as not sensitive to the child's special needs, and obviously not compassionate for the child's symptoms of the disability."
Pitchford "immediately put the aide and teacher on administrative leave" after he heard the tapes. The sheriff's office's initial investigation did not find anything criminal and no arrests were made.
Last Friday, the teachers were allowed to return to school but were re-assigned away from Jose. By the next day, angry parents were calling the school, protesting the teachers' return and Pitchford recognized that he made a mistake.
"I made a poor decision and re-assigned them back to school," he said. "It was the wrong decision and I accept full responsibility."