In 2007, middle schooler Michael Teich was unwell. Teich, who is severely autistic, would return from his days at Coconut Creek's Monarch High School disconsolate and hurt -- with "obvious signs of trauma to his eyes and other body parts," as subsequent legal documents would claim. One day in December, the teacher assigned to supervise Michael throughout the day, Ms. Talia Sabo, allegedly attacked the child with a metal chair while escorting him to gym class. Michael "cowered" and tried to escape, but Ms. Sabo pursued him, and threw the chair in his direction. Teich was hit. Ms. Sabo then allegedly emptied the contents of Michael's backpack into a garbage can, breaking a CD player he had received as a reward for good behavior.
Teich's parents dragged the school district into court, claiming Michael received regular physical and emotional abuse from his teacher. In 2010, Teich's family settled out of court with the school district for $25,000 -- a third of which was eaten up by lawyer's fees.
Now, the Teichs' state-supplied guardian ad-litem, Matthew Scott, has decided that $25,000 was woefully inadequate. "The settlement reached in this case is not in Michael's best interests," wrote Scott in his report. "I think $25,000 was far too low... I think the settlement was reached at mediation due to duress, rather than a cleareyed decision to settle by Michael's parents." Scott also noted that Michael has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and that the Teichs' remaining portion of the $25,000 would barely begin to cover treatment. The Teichs began this month prepared to reenter court with a new lawyer, Paul Sopp.
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If a second settlement is reached, the financial outcome could be very different for the Teichs. As it happens, Sabo is hardly the first Floridian teacher accused of abusing an autistic student. In 2008, a Palm Beach County teacher named Wendy Portillo was relieved of duties for a year after having an autistic child, Alex Barton, voted out of his kindergarten class, Survivor-style. Before ejecting the boy, Portillo gave his classmates a chance to explain why they didn't like him. The school district continued to pay Portillo's salary during her leave and paid for her legal defense as well. The Bartons were awarded nearly half a million dollars in settlement -- and their child wasn't even attacked with furniture.
Update: This story has been updated to correct the name of the Teichs' new lawyer, Paul Sopp. Previously, I identified the lawyer as "Leo Plasencia, a veritable tiger of a man whose own son has Aspergers' Syndrome." In fact, Plasencia has done work on the case, but Mr. Sopp is the lead counsel. - BKT
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