Judge grants access

June 09, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

An Anne Arundel Circuit judge ruled yesterday that a teacher charged with leaving a blind, handicapped student in a storage closet for three hours last winter should have access to the student's school records to help defend herself.

The records may show that putting the alleged victim in a "time out" room was recognized as a valid form of handling disruptive behavior, said Roland Walker, the lawyer for Susan Hope Pagano

Ms. Pagano, 38, of the 6100 block of Encounter Row, Columbia, is charged with misconduct in office and obstruction of justice stemming from a Dec. 10, 1993 incident at the Ruth Parker Eason School in Millersville. She remains on leave with pay.

The girl, a 16-year-old student, is strapped to a wheelchair and has the mental capacity of an infant. Her father said yesterday that she was brought home from school crying the day of the incident and had bruises and cuts on her arms. The father took her to North Arundel Hospital, where emergency room personnel called the police.

Ms. Pagano's attorney said school records may show whether the alleged victim had been a discipline problem and whether school officials ever sanctioned or recommended isolating her in time-out rooms when she became disruptive.

"If there is an expert to say that placing them apart from the group is effective, that it helps the teacher get along with their lessons, and the child's lesson plan says she's prone to outbursts and this practice helps, we're entitled to that," he said.

Assistant State's Attorney Robert Bittman called the defense request a "fishing expedition." The alleged victim was put in a storage closet, not in a designated time-out room, and kept there for three hours, he said.

"It's against school policies to put anyone in a storage closet, so that kind of thing wouldn't be in the records," Mr. Bittman argued.

Mr. Walker said his client denies the state's allegations. The room's door was kept open and the student was closely monitored, he said.

"There was constant checking on this child, constant in and out," Mr. Walker said.

Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr. said he hoped to rule today on Mr. Walker's additional requests, which include a motion to dismiss the charges on grounds they are not substantiated by the facts.

Mr. Walker also is asking Judge Goudy to bar conversations between Ms. Pagano and a state-appointed polygraph expert from being admitted during the trial.

Mr. Bittman asked Judge Goudy to delay his decision until after state witnesses testify about the conversation and discussions between prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Yesterday, the girl's father said he is still upset that State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee did not press the grand jury to indict Ms. Pagano on more serious charges, such as child abuse.

He said his daughter, who cannot speak, refused to let anyone touch her for weeks afterward. She has been handicapped since suffering a severe electrical shock when she touched a defective television antenna at age 18 months.

She has since won a settlement in a federal suit against the television manufacturer. The money enabled her father to set up a trust fund to pay for the 24-hour nursing care, the specially equipped van and 12 different operations she has needed.

"I make sure she gets the best of everything," he said.

The father said his daughter is being taught at home but will one day return to school.

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