Reports have surfaced of three Manchester student assaults at Parker Varney elementary school by two registered behavior technicians (RBTs), both employed by Applied ABC, a private third-party vendor hired by the school district. The Manchester assaults occurred over the span of only several weeks. Both RBTs have been arrested. Applied ABC works with 15 New Hampshire school districts to provide at-home, in-center, and in-school therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Home | PARKER-VARNEY (mansd.org)
Most Recent Manchester Student Assaults:
In the most recent Manchester student assault incident, William O’Connell, 24, a RBT with Applied ABC, was accused of assaulting a 7-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl at Parker Varney Elementary School. Mr. O’Connell allegedly threw a boy to the ground in a hard manner and injured his face in the process. Later that same day, he also allegedly put a girl to the ground in a “hard way.” The mother of the young girl indicated to reporters that, “the RBT involved grabbed her, basically dragged her back to the classroom and slammed her to the ground.” Mr. O’Connell turned himself into the police on January 31, 2024.
Previous Manchester Student Assault:
In the previous Manchester student assault incident, Louis Efstathiou, 69, another RBT with Applied ABC, was accused of assaulting a different 7-year-old boy just weeks earlier after the boy came home from school with injuries to his face. Mr. Efstathiou turned himself into the police on January 18, 2024. School therapist in NH accused of assaulting 7-year-old student (wmur.com)
Following the Efstathiou incident, Applied ABC reportedly released a January 2024 memo to the Manchester school district detailing that the company has relationships with 50 school districts nationwide. The company contends they have 81 employees working in the Manchester school district and they conduct rigorous screening to ensure staffers are credentialed and experienced.
But are these assurances empty words?
Applied ABC Training:
According to the Applied ABC website, the company provides Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Staff training involves a 40-hour Registered Behavioral Technician (RBT) course conducted by Board Certified Behavioral Analysts (BCBAs). The training also entails periodic Safety Care Training. Applied ABC | About Us & Our Mission — Applied ABC
While these assertions seem legitimate, many question remain. With three different assaults, involving the most vulnerable types of students, occurring at the same school, involving employees of the same company, within several weeks – how could something like this happen? Is there a systematic problem at Applied ABC? Were these staffers properly trained? Did these staffers have adequate experience despite their 40-hour training? Should the Manchester school district have suspended their contact after the first incident? How was Mr. O’Connell able to allegedly assault two different students, in two different incidents, within the same day?
After the arrests were publicized, Applied ABC scurried to issue the following statement. “Applied ABC immediately notified the proper authorities and terminated the employees as soon as we learned of the reported incidents. Our rapid response helped ensure that Child Protective Services were notified and that all relevant details were shared as quickly as possible. Our agency has a zero-tolerance policy for any and all improper behavior toward children. Due to student confidentiality, we are unable to provide additional details on this matter.”
Manchester superintendent Jennifer Chimel Gillis also stated “The allegations are troubling enough, but especially so given that this is a second set of allegations involving employees of this company. We are reviewing the status of our agreement with this vendor and we have made it clear to the leadership of Applied ABC that the alleged behaviors are unacceptable. They have taken immediate steps, including additional training, and increased support and oversight for their employees.”
The Manchester School District also released a statement indicating that they work with outside agencies to conduct background checks of contractors. Those contractors aren’t allowed to begin work in the schools until those checks are completed.
Both Applied ABC, and the Manchester school district for that matter, may be exposed to serious liability implications for these Manchester student assaults. Applied ABC has a duty to properly train, vet, and supervise their employees. This is especially the case when they are dealing with children who may be grappling with challenging behavioral issues. Applied ABC is vicariously liable for the actions of their employees while acting within the scope of their employment.
Additionally, the Manchester school district has a duty to properly vet the third-party contractors that interact with their students. The school district also has a duty to make necessary changes when the first incident came to light. They also had a duty to inform the parents before a systematic problem developed. In addition, if the Manchester school district exercised a level of control and direction over the RBTs operating within their school system, this may trigger an agency relationship. This could also create a vicarious liability situation.
In New Hampshire, there is a damages cap of $325,000 for actions against a municipality, or the limits of a municipal insurance policy, whatever is higher. There would be no limitations to Applied ABCs exposure. Given the demographics of the vulnerable students, it is likely they have a sizeable insurance policy, and perhaps excess coverage. Chapter 507-B BODILY INJURY ACTIONS AGAINST GOVERNMENTAL UNITS (state.nh.us)
Our firm has experience bringing wrongful death actions against private schools involving students with autism spectrum disorder. We would be happy to speak with the families involved with the above incidents to ensure that they receive justice for these horrific Manchester student assaults.
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