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LIBERTY, MO (KCTV)—A Kansas City area special education teacher has gone to court for the right to see a former student who has become a friend to her whole family.

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Today in a Clay County Courtroom, the Clay County Public Administrator and case workers had to explain to a judge why Rita Richards was blocked from seeing her friend for more than two and half years.

The History

Richards and her family stepped up to provide support for Zach years ago. It started with Zach visiting a couple of times of month. Richards would often get his former classmates together at her house. They had birthday parties for him and shared holidays together.

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“He started seeing us as his family and we see him as a part of our family,” said Richards.

Richards told us things changed with a new public administrator, who serves as Zach’s guardian, was elected. During visits, Richards noticed Zach was losing weight and his personal hygiene was being neglected. She started visiting Zach in his group home more frequently. She found the house was lacking in certain foods. She found wet clothes on the floor.

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She started documenting problems and asking questions.

The Public Administrator pushed back, eventually cutting contact between Richards and Zach

To the Courts

Today in the courtroom, the new Public Administrator (former administrator Sarah Mills Rottgers resigned last summer) and case worders told the judge that the teacher had crossed the line. They argued that she actually was a threat to Zach’s health and safety. They explained she brushed and flossed Zach’s teeth, weighed him and took pictures of a rash. They also complained she sent weekly emails documenting concerns.

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More than 60 people who wrote letters to judge supporting Richards. Other people turned in affidavits saying they’ve also lost contact with Zach. They question what Clay County has done to a young man with disabilities. They call it vindictive.

“I think it’s terrible,” said Mary Meyers, the parent of a former student. “It makes no sense at all. I don’t know why our government officials would not want help. She was helpful to Zach.”

Today’s hearing is not the end—it will continue in a few weeks.

Up next is the most important witness, Zach. The judge says he wants to hear directly from the young man. Our investigative team will continue watching this case.

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