CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Kai Foreman is your typical 5-year-old boy in many ways. He’s a happy child who loves to play – especially with dinosaurs.

But like any kid, Kai has tough days too. One of those particularly tough days happened in June when his mom, Wendy Galicia, dropped Kai off for class at Western Branch Primary in Chesapeake.

Kai has severe autism. He struggles with changes to his daily routine and has been nonverbal for most of his life.

That’s why Galicia says she’s using her voice to tell her son’s story.

“My son, he can’t say, he can’t tell me,” Galicia said. “He can’t be like, ‘hey mommy, this happened to me today.’ He can’t, and that’s who I feel like this is for. For all those kids that can’t say what’s going on. How they’re being treated.”

Kai’s story began on June 14 when his mom dropped him off at school. Galicia was at the school early that morning for a meeting to discuss Kai’s individualized education program – known as an IEP. Galicia asked for the meeting because she was worried about how school staff interacted with her son, especially during moments when he becomes upset.

“They knew about him. They knew his needs,” Galicia said.

Kai routinely struggles with transitions, especially when it comes time to leave for class. That means going to school isn’t always easy for Kai, and on that particular day, he was struggling.

“I’m trying to calm him down and get him to be ok to go to class, and then out of nowhere, I felt he just got pulled from me,” she said.

What happened next is what Galicia said led her to remove Kai from the school. She obtained a copy of surveillance video from June 14, which shows that Kai was upset when two teacher assistants picked him up from his mom and tried to escort him to class. Before they made it to the classroom, the school principal walked by and picked Kai up to try and calm him down.

“I can’t watch,” Galicia said of the video. “You could see his face, too, and that hurts to just see him, and I just felt horrible.”

10 On Your Side reached out to Chesapeake Public Schools regarding Galicia’s concerns about the surveillance video. School administration released a statement to 10 On Your Side that said in part:

With all allegations such as this, we immediately contact Child Protective Services to investigate as well as conduct an internal investigation through our Human Resources Department. Chesapeake Public Schools and Child Protective Services reviewed these allegations and determined them to be unfounded.

Chris Vail, Director of Communications for Chesapeake Public Schools

Josephine Amato has been a therapist for more than three decades. Since 2021, she’s been Kai’s advocate through the organization Military Kids Special Education Alliance.

She watched the surveillance video and said school staff could have followed other protocols when escorting Kai to class.

“Put the child down,” Amato said. “Look at mom and say, ‘hey mom, would you like to engage with us in a positive transition? Hey Kai, would it be better if mom walked us back? Hey mom, can you walk five feet back.'”

10 On Your Side also showed the surveillance footage to Dr. John Harrington, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters who specializes in autism. Harrington also has a son with the disorder.

Harrington commented on the fact that Kai walked throughout the entire video, which was a positive sign in his opinion. He also said that patience is key when interacting with people who have autism.

“I think that’s where we make a lot of mistakes with kids with autism. We try to process for them but let them process and let them see what’s going on,” Harrington said.

Kai hasn’t been back to school since June 14. His mother decided to pull him out of Chesapeake Public Schools and homeschool him until she can find a school that meets his needs.

Galicia said she wanted to transfer Kai to another Chesapeake school, but if she signs the paperwork to make that happen, she said she will lose the right to file any future complaints or lawsuits about the June 14 incident.

“It’s just wrong because they’re taking all of his rights away,” Galicia said.

10 On Your Side asked Chesapeake Public Schools about any proposed agreements to transfer Kai to another school in the city. School administration released a statement that said in part:

As you know, Chesapeake Public Schools is legally bound by laws protecting student information and is therefore unable to comment further on this specific situation. These protections also apply to any settlement agreements the School Board may or may not be entering into to resolve a matter. Accordingly, Chesapeake Public Schools will not be providing comment with regard to potential settlement agreement specifics.

Chris Vail, Director of Communications for Chesapeake Public Schools

At the end of the day, Galicia hopes the district will review its policies on de-escalation training for educators working with children who have special needs.

“It’s not just us. It’s everywhere, and that’s not ok. We can do better,” she said.

Chesapeake Public Schools told 10 On Your Side that, “Our primary goal is to provide all students with the best educational possible. We work with families to resolve matters at quickly as possible in the best interest of the student.”

CPS also provided a list of the training provided to special education staff, which is not limited to:

  • ODU Restraint and Seclusion Training (Required training for all teachers/paraprofessionals)
  • Beginning the Journey: Exceptional Learner/Special Education
  • Foundations of Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Autism and Asperger’s Disorder: Information and Effective Intervention Strategies
  • Empowering Students With Disabilities
  • Content Area Multi-Sensory Teaching for Students With Special Needs, K-5
  • Making Sense Out of Multisensory Instruction
  • Behavior Serves a Purpose 
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders for Paraprofessionals (Special Education Paraprofessionals)