Parents Angry After School Put Autistic Son in Bag

(Courtesy Sandra Baker)

"God, they do not have my son in that bag …"

That's what Sandra Baker, of Harrodsburg, Ky., said she thought when she walked down a hall toward a big green bag, with a teacher's aide sitting beside it, at her son's school, on Dec. 14.

"Mama, is that you?" a voice coming from the bag said.

Christopher Baker, 9, is autistic and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Sometimes his school calls Baker, 35, to come to the school to help calm him down, she said.

"They said he was 'bouncing off the walls,'" Baker said, describing the call she got - relayed by her mother - on Dec. 14.

The bag was not mesh; it was opaque cloth, with a drawstring, which was pulled tight, Baker said. Christopher could not see out, she said, adding that he asked "Who's out there?" before asking, "Mama, is that you?"

"You need to get him out of that bag, now," Baker  said she told the aide, who struggled to open the bag, according to Baker. "That startled me: What if he aspirated on food, or a fire broke out?" she said.

When she met with the principal and another school official after the incident, they answered this question by saying they would have dragged the bag away with Christopher inside, Sandra said with a laugh.

Baker and her husband, Scottie Baker, from whom she's separated, said they were dissatisfied with the school district's response to this incident.

"They swept it under the rug, sort of joked about it," Sandra Baker said.

She said she and her husband had not received an apology from the teacher who instructed the aide to put Christopher in the bag, which they were promised in the meeting with the principal. The meeting did not include anyone directly involved in the incident, Scottie Baker said.

They had not been contacted by Mercer County Schools Interim Superintendent Dennis Davis. In a statement, Davis said he couldn't comment because of confidentiality laws. "The employees of the Mercer County Public Schools are qualified professionals who treat students with respect and dignity while providing a safe and nurturing learning environment," Davis  said in the statement.

Bags are used to calm and control special-needs children, the Bakers said, but they are elastic and allow the child to stand, move around and get out if they need to. "This was like a gym bag," Sandra Baker said.

She said she was told the school had used the bag to try to calm Christopher at least three times in the past, but she assumed he would roll on the bag, filled with balls, using it as a sensory stimulus - "not be inside the bag, with the drawstring pulled."

Moreover, Christopher should have been put in a room the school has for special-needs students, not in a public hallway, the Bakers said.

A social worker for the state of Kentucky was investigating the incident, including reviewing surveillance video of the hallway Christopher was in, the Bakers said.

More than 4,500 people have signed an online petition demanding Mercer County improve teacher training and a school's ability to handle special-needs students.

"I'm excited about that," Sandra Baker said. "I don't want this to happen to my son or anyone else's child. It's wrong." She is not trying to use the incident to get money, she said.

"The school shouldn't be asking Sandra to do their job," said her husband. "What if she or I aren't available? They need to learn how to handle [situations like these]. Right now, they seem like they have no patience for it."