Mother says teacher beat autistic child


Police are investigating a mother’s claim that her 4-year-old autistic son was choked and beaten by an assistant teacher at Birch Family Services in Riverdale on June 17.

Carmen Lucchesse, a Kingsbridge Heights resident, said the school nurse called her at around 1:45 p.m. to inform her that her son, Jovani Gomez, had been scratched while getting into an accident with an assistant teacher. 

She wanted to pick him up from the school for developmentally disabled children, which is located in Fieldston, but was told he was already boarding the bus. 

When the bus dropped him off 15 minutes later, Ms. Lucchesse said he was hysterically crying and had a black eye, bruises near his neck and scratches on his face and arms.

Ms. Lucchesse called the police and brought her son to North Central Bronx Hospital, where she said doctors told her signs of pressure around Jovani’s neck indicated that he had been choked.

“He doesn’t want to go outside. He doesn’t want to do anything. I mentioned his teacher and he just started screaming his heart out,” said Ms. Lucchesse.

This wasn’t the first time Jovani came home with marks on his body, according to his mother. Ms. Lucchesse said during the past three months he has come home with bruised testicles, a bump on his forehead and other marks. She said the injuries have all occurred when her son was in the care of one assistant teacher. Each time she asked, Ms. Lucchesse said the school informed her Jovani had fallen down the stairs, bumped his head in the bathroom or had other accidents.

She has stopped sending her son to Birch and is in the process of transferring him to another school.

“I just want people to realize that if your child comes home and you notice he’s crying, find out what’s going on. Because my son was constantly coming home scared and I kept saying, ‘Why?’” she said. “Every time, it’s an excuse with the school until now, when my son comes home choked.”

The 50th Precinct referred the case to the special victims unit, which is still investigating the allegations.

Susan Miller, chief operating officer of Birch Family Services, said she couldn’t discuss the details of the student’s injuries or the accused employees’ actions because of the agency’s confidentiality clause.

She said Birch investigates all complaints of employee’s harming children physically and emotionally by interviewing witnesses and those involved and then convenes a committee to decide on a course of action. 

Ms. Miller said Birch has concluded its investigation, held an initial meeting and scheduled a second pertainin