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Mom says Durham schools not doing enough to protect son with autism after alleged assault

May 14, 2019

A Durham woman said her 11-year-old son with autism was assaulted at school and that Durham Public Schools isn’t doing enough to prevent it from happening again.

Jennifer Chonillo said her son, Corbin, was punched in the face and knocked to the ground last Thursday in the Lucas Middle School cafeteria. A teacher was able to get the other student off Corbin, she said.

Corbin is non-verbal, Chonillo said, so she relies on school officials to keep her informed. She said she didn’t learn of what happened until hours later, and she feels school administrators didn’t take it seriously.

“He waited until my son was on the bus – and pretty much home – before he told me,” she said Monday. “He said, ‘Oh, it’s just kids being kids.’ I don’t consider punching somebody to be ‘just kids being kids.’”

School district officials said they are investigating Chonillo’s allegations.

“We understand the parent’s concern for her child. School and district staff have reached out to her promptly and repeatedly to keep her informed and to develop solutions for her concerns. We are committed to working with this parent and all our families to support the academic and socio-emotional needs of every DPS student without exception.”

Chonillo said she told Lucas Middle administrators in February that she was concerned for Corbin’s safety after he was coming home upset and missing things.

“He loves school, and he had started to not want to go,” she said.

Chnillo met with school officials Tuesday morning and said she learned that the student who allegedly assaulted her son is in his special-needs class. She said school officials gave her two options: Move Corbin to a class for students with Down syndrome, which may not meet his educational needs, or leave him in the class with the alleged assailant.

“Something happened to my son, and you need to do something about it,” she said.

She is keeping Corbin out of school until officials can assure her that he won’t come into contact with the student again.

She said she notified police of the alleged assault, but the Durham Police Department said they have no report on file of it.

Chonillo said she also is writing to City Council members, and state lawmakers, telling them that they and the school system need to do more to protect vulnerable students.

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