Parents of special needs children allege abuse in lawsuit against Marion County Schools

jwarren@herald-leader.comJune 21, 2014 

Four parents of special needs children have sued the Marion County Board of Education, alleging that their children suffered abuse or neglect by a special education teacher at Marion County High School last year.

One of the parents is the high school's immediate past principal.

In addition to the school board, defendants in the civil suit are Marion Schools Superintendent Taylora Schlosser; special education teacher Holly Buckman; current Marion High School Principal Michael Abell; Assistant Principal Christina McRay; former special education director Deborah Spalding; and special education and pre-school director Amber Ervin.

The 15-page lawsuit was filed June 12 in Marion Circuit Court by Paul and Virginia Boone, Elizabeth Johnson, and Stacey Hall, all of whom are parents of special needs children in the Marion County school system.

Hall resigned as principal of Marion County High School last summer to become federal programs director for the county school system. However, he no longer works for the district.

Schlosser, the school superintendent, said in a statement that the school district doesn't comment on pending litigation. However, she said district officials are "always concerned when allegations come to light involving our students, particularly in regard to students' relationship with our teachers and other staff members."

The parents allege in the suit that their three children were abused or neglected by Buckman while attending class in her special education classroom at Marion County High School during the 2013-14 school year.

The parents also allege that when they complained about the incidents, school and district officials promised action but did nothing.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and a trial by jury.

According to the lawsuit, the students involved have various mental disabilities, are non-verbal or have difficulty communicating, and one has a history of seizures.

The suit describes various incidents last school year in which Buckman allegedly placed students in a closed room with the lights off for periods up to two hours. Seclusion put one child's health and life at risk because she is not able to care for herself, the suit charges.

In another instance, the suit accuses Buckman of leaving a mentally disabled student in an isolated bathroom for extended periods without supervision.

The suit also says Buckman removed that student from the regular classroom "in a rough manner, by grabbing and jerking his arm and pulling him into the bathroom."

The suit further charges that Buckman ridiculed a third student's ability to speak, pushed him in the classroom and in hallways, and "treated him in a rude and demeaning manner ... inconsistent with her duties a teacher of special education students."

Aides working in the special education classroom reported the conduct to parents and to Abell and various other school officials, but nothing was done, according to the suit.

Instead, the lawsuit says, Schlosser "reprimanded the classroom aides for informing the parents" and later fired them.

Parents also confronted various officials about the situation, but no action was taken, the suit says.

In addition, it says Schlosser told parents that she would report Buckman's conduct to the state attorney general. But the suit says that and other statements by Schlosser were false, uttered "with the intent of misleading the plaintiffs into believing that their children would be protected ..."

Randy Blankenship, one of the attorneys representing the parents, said he isn't aware of any other pending lawsuits involving the situation.

"But we have been contacted by a number of people, both before and since we filed this lawsuit, with similar claims against the school district," Blankenship said. "We're still investigating those claims."

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255

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