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A group of local parents are suing the Marion County Public School System, Superintendent Taylora Schlosser, current and former MCPS administrators and a teacher for alleged abuse of their special needs children.
The lawsuit was filed in Marion Circuit Court Thursday, June 12, on behalf of Paul and Virginia Boone of Lebanon, Elizabeth J. Johnson of St. Francis and Stacey Hall of Lebanon, all parents of special needs children who attend or have attended Marion County High School.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are special education teacher Holly Buckman of Lebanon, Superintendent Schlosser of Springfield, Marion County High School Principal Michael Abell of Springfield, Lebanon Middle School Principal Christina McRay of Raywick (former assistant principal at MCHS), former Special Education Director Deborah Spalding of Lebanon, Special Education and Pre-School Director Amber Ervin of Campbellsville, the Marion County Public School District and the Marion County Board of Education.
According to the lawsuit, Buckman was serving as a special education teacher in Room 126 at MCHS when she allegedly abused and neglected at least three students. Room 126 is the special education classroom at MCHS used for students who are considered functionally mentally disabled.
The lawsuit states that on or about Nov. 6, 2013, Buckman allegedly placed Paul and Virginia Boone’s child, a non-verbal physically and mentally disabled student with a history of seizures, in a side room, known as a sensory room, turned off the lights and left her in the room for an extended period of time. The lawsuit states that Buckman’s conduct posed a “serious safety issue” to the child, especially considering her inability to care for her own needs and her history of seizures. According to the lawsuit, Buckman did this on several occasions, and on some occasions placed the child in the room alone and in the dark for more than two hours without any supervision. On Nov. 6, 2013, the teachers’ aides who were working in Room 126 informed Paul and Virginia Boone of the situation and they confronted MCHS Principal Abell about it. The lawsuit states that Abell promised to get to “the bottom” of the situation, but he never did anything to address the situation.
The lawsuit further states that on Nov. 13, 2013, Buckman placed Elizabeth J. Johnson’s non-verbal physically and mentally disabled child in an isolated bathroom, without any supervision. Buckman allegedly shut the door to the room, leaving the child in the bathroom for an extended period of time to punish him. The complaint accuses Buckman of “violently and forcibly” removing the child from the regular classroom by grabbing and jerking his arm and pulling him into the bathroom. The lawsuit states Buckman did this to the child on several occasions, and when aides in Room 126 informed Johnson of the situation she confronted Schlosser, Ervin and Spalding about it on Dec. 30, 2013.
According to the lawsuit, beginning in the 2013-14 school year, Stacey Hall’s child was a student of Buckman’s in Room 126. Buckman allegedly “repeatedly harassed, mocked and bullied” Hall’s son, and “ridiculed his inability to speak.” She allegedly pushed him in the classroom and in the hallways. “She treated him in a rude and demeaning manner, all of which were inconsistent with her duties as a teacher of special education students,” the lawsuit states. Hall’s child was also present in Room 126 when Buckman neglected and abused the Boone and Johnson children, along with other special education students. The lawsuit states Hall’s son was “emotionally traumatized” by observing Buckman abuse his fellow classmates and, as a result, he’s developed disturbing behaviors, including emotional outbursts.
According to the lawsuit, Hall reported the abuse of his son to Ervin on or about Nov. 6, 2013. Ervin allegedly promised she would promptly investigate the matter and report back to Hall. The lawsuit states Ervin failed to provide any such report to Hall, so he reported the abuse to Schlosser and Abell. They both allegedly promised they would promptly address the abuse, but Hall heard nothing from them until Dec. 20, 2013, when Ervin informed him that the situation had been remedied. Ervin informed Hall that Buckman had been removed from Room 126. She further informed Hall that all of the aides, including those aides who reported the abuse, had been removed from Room 126. The lawsuit states both of the aides who reported the abuse were terminated from their employment with MCPS.
Lawsuit claims abuse was reported, but ignored by administration
Aides working in Room 126 reported suspected misconduct by Buckman to then-MCHS Assistant Principal McRay as early as September of 2013, according to the lawsuit. They specifically warned McRay that Buckman had a bad temper, failed to control her temper, and they feared for the students’ safety in Room 126. The lawsuit states McRay promised to keep a regular watch on Room 126, but in reality, did nothing.
After learning of the neglect and abuse of her son, Johnson informed Superintendent Schlosser of McRay’s failure to do anything. Schlosser promised to address the situation, but did nothing and, instead, promoted McRay to principal at Lebanon Middle School, the lawsuit states.
Furthermore, according to the lawsuit, aides working in Room 126 reported Buckman’s abuse of Paul and Virginia Boone’s child to MCHS Principal Abell on or about Nov. 22, 2013. Abell allegedly failed to promptly notify the Cabinet for Families and Children or any other agency charged with the obligation to investigate allegations of abuse. Abell also failed to inform Paul and Virginia Boone of the abuse and neglect, and failed to immediately investigate the allegations of abuse and neglect, allowing Buckman to remain in Room 126, the lawsuit states. Had Abell and the other defendants fulfilled their legal duties to these students following the neglect and abuse, Buckman would not have been allowed to remain in her position in Room 126, and would not have been able to continue to neglect and/or abuse other students, the lawsuit claims.
When Abell failed or refused to address the situation, classroom aides then informed Ervin, Schlosser and Spalding of Buckman’s misconduct. But, they also failed to take prompt action and failed to report the abuse to the Cabinet for Families and Children, the lawsuit states. Rather than address the misconduct of Buckman, Schlosser allegedly reprimanded the classroom aides for informing the parents of abuse, warned the classroom aides that they were not to communicate with the parents, informed the classroom aides that they were to communicate their concerns about classroom issues to Buckman, removed the classroom aides from Room 126 and terminated their employment with MCPS. When the parents of the mentally disabled, non-verbal students confronted Schlosser about Buckman’s abuse, Schlosser allegedly informed them that Buckman would never be permitted to be around children again as an employee of MCPS. Schlosser also allegedly stated that she would report the abuse to Attorney General Jack Conway and let him determine what action to take.
In the course of their investigation of the abuse, Schlosser and Ervin allegedly requested Buckman to produce logs on the sensory room usage, which were supposed to be maintained. However, Buckman acknowledged that she had not maintained the logs and, instead, said she was still “compiling” the logs after the fact. Schlosser and Ervin allegedly accepted the “compiled” logs from Buckman and represented the logs to be contemporaneous logs in an effort to conceal the abuse from the parents and others, the lawsuit states.
According to the complaint, Spalding had been told that Buckman had abused a student at Lebanon Middle School several years prior. Spalding allegedly promised the parent of the LMS student that she would address the situation. After the parent threatened legal action, Spalding allegedly transferred the student to MCHS, but took no action against Buckman. Had Spalding taken appropriate remedial action at that time, the students in Room 126 would have never been subjected to Buckman’s abuse and neglect, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit, count by count
The plaintiffs accuse Buckman of one count of battery, one count of assault, one count of intentional infliction of emotional distress and one count of violation of statutes by engaging in acts of harassment and menacing.
The plaintiffs also charge Abell, Schlosser, Spalding and Ervin with one count of violation of statute. According to the complaint, Spalding had a duty to report Buckman’s alleged abuse of a Lebanon Middle School student, but didn’t. And, as a result, the students in Room 126 were later subjected to abuse by Buckman. Furthermore, pursuant to KRS 620.030, Abell, Spalding, Schlosser and Ervin were also obligated to report the alleged abuse by Buckman, but failed to do so resulting in the children being subjected to subsequent acts of abuse and neglect by Buckman, the complaint states.
The plaintiffs also accuse Abell, McRay, Schlosser, Spalding and Ervin with one count of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The complaint states that their failure to report the neglect and abuse and their attempts to cover it up were “extreme and outrageous.”
Lastly, the complaint also charges Abell, McRay, Schlosser, Spalding and the Marion County Board of Education with one count of negligent retention and supervision. The lawsuit claims they should have known that Buckman was unfit to teach FMD students, and that the retention of Buckman in that position created an unreasonable risk of harm to the students under her care. According to the lawsuit, Buckman’s conduct was “extreme and outrageous” and the students were exposed to serious risk of physical injury, suffered severe emotional distress, and have incurred medical and/or psychological expenses.
The plaintiffs are demanding judgment against the defendants, as well as compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury, costs and a trial by jury.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys are Randy J. Blankenship and C. Ed Massey of Blankenship, Massey & Associates, PLLC in Erlanger, Kentucky.
Massey is a past president of both the Kentucky School Board Association and the National School Board Association. He’s also been a school board member in Boone County for 18 years.
“It’s not my habit to sue school boards,” Massey said. “But when something is so egregious and so harmful to children I feel it is incumbent for me to protect those students.”
He said while the lawsuit focuses on the inappropriate actions of adults, this case is about kids.
“Locking a kid in a room that’s nonverbal is just inexcusable,” Massey said.
Marion County Board of Education Attorney Joe Mattingly of Mattingly & Nally-Martin, PLLC in Lebanon, emailed the following statement after the Enterprise called him for comment:
"Members of administration and the Board of the Marion County School District are always concerned when allegations come to light involving our students, particularly in regard to students' relationships with our teachers and other staff members. It continues to be the goal of the administration and Board to thoroughly investigate each such incident and address each appropriately. However, it has long been the policy of the administration and Board of the Marion County School District not to publicly comment on matters in litigation or which involve individual members of our student body."
Editor’s note: A complaint only gives the plaintiff’s side of a case. No answer has yet been filed in this case.
Additional children possibly abused
The Lebanon Enterprise received the following email from Jennifer Franklin on Saturday, June 14:
Regarding the lawsuit against Marion County school staff in the alleged incident(s) involving special needs children, I would like to let you know that there are other children involved in the abuse that were not mentioned in the lawsuit. My child is one of them. She was abused and it was covered up by school officials. I could not afford an attorney, therefore, we cannot take part in this lawsuit, regrettably. If you could let people know that the abuse was NOT limited to just the three children mentioned in the lawsuit, I would appreciate it. Everyone needs a voice, regardless of means.