CINCINNATI (CN) - A special ed teacher in an overcrowded classroom screamed at students that she "hated" them, stole their lunches, duct-taped one to a chair, and refused to help a child use a walker to get to the bathroom, saying, "Let her crawl," five students and their parents claim in court.
Filing by initials only, the guardians of five multi-handicapped students sued the Kings Local School District Board of Education, the allegedly abusive teacher Amanda R. Kitcho, and Columbia Elementary School principals Jerry Gasper and Shelley Detmer-Bogaert, in Federal Court.
The parents say in the lawsuit that their "children are unable to defend themselves physically or verbally. Nevertheless, as described in this complaint, the Kings Local School District and its employees and officials unlawfully and injuriously abused and neglected the children, failed to notify proper authorities, and then covered up their unlawful conduct."
The school district is in Kings Mills, in Warren County, in southwest Ohio.
The parents of lead plaintiff H.M., who suffers from congenital disorders of glycosylation and cerebellar hypoplasia, claim the "multi-handicapped classroom" run by Kitcho was already filled to legal capacity when their daughter was moved there in November 2010.
H.M.'s parents say: "Throughout her tenure as a teacher at Kings, Kitcho regularly screamed at her students, including the plaintiffs herein who are minors, intentionally provoked and startled them into escalating behaviors, threw their possessions into the trash, walked them in behind dividers in the classroom, took food from their lunches, deprived them of snacks, lied to them and otherwise both ignored and abused the multi-handicapped children in her classroom."
During the 2010-11 school year, Kitcho told H.M. that she hated her and often forced her to crawl to the bathroom without her walker, the parents say.
"An aide in Kitcho's classroom reported that Kitcho stated, with respect to H.M., that, 'She's crawling around. I'm not putting her in that damn thing every time she's got to move from center to center. She can crawl,'" according to the complaint.
"In addition to the crawling in the classroom noted above, a second long-term Kings' employee (a librarian) reported to the Columbia administration of Kitcho's conduct of forcing H.M. to crawl into the bathroom in the hallway outside the classroom. This librarian characterized H.M. being forced to crawl across the floor as looking like 'a dying dog trying to get to the side of the road. That's how pathetic it looked to me.'" (Parentheses in complaint.)
The 27-page lawsuit adds: "In perhaps the most outrageous pattern of conduct perpetrated by Kitcho against H.M., she would frequently slide H.M., seat-belted in her Rifton Compass [body support] Chair, into the bathroom, close the door, and leave her in there for periods of time as a means of discipline. There, H.M. would cry and scream. This would at times continue for prolonged periods of time.
"Eventually, H.M. learned how to unbuckle her chair seatbelt. While locked in the bathroom, H.M. would unbuckle her seatbelt, fall to the floor, [and] crawl to the door of the bathroom. Upon reaching the door, H.M. would pull herself up on the frame and door knob, open the door, and then try to come back into the classroom.
"On occasions, to prevent H.M. from coming back into the classroom, Kitcho would stand in front of the door with H.M. attempting to exit, pushing on the door and screaming and crying to get out.
"Kitcho would let H.M. scream until she was too tired to scream anymore.
"One day, tiring of this routine, Kitcho used duct tape to rig the seatbelt on the Rifton Compass Chair to make it impossible for H.M. to break free. Kitcho then slid H.M. into the bathroom in the classroom, and left her in the chair, crying and screaming for a significant portion of that day's lunch period.
"During the course of such actions by Kitcho, H.M. was screaming at the top of her
lungs: 'I have to go potty; I have to go potty ...'
"An aide said that Kitcho acted like a ten-year-old and screamed back and forth
with H.M: 'I hate you. I hate you.'"
Parents of the four other plaintiff children say Kitcho abused their children too, ridiculing them for their clothes, stealing their snacks, neglecting when they needed to use the bathroom, and ignoring during an episode of vomiting and seizures.
The parents claim that at least two teacher's aides notified the principals of Columbia Elementary about Kitcho's behavior - one aide going so far as resigning - but it took more than seven months before anything was done.
The parents say school district administrators eventually became worried about the stories reaching local media, so they conducted numerous depositions of teachers and staff, and alerted the Child Abuse Unit of the Warren County Sheriff's Office.
After investigating, the Sheriff's Office declined to press charges, and the Kings Local School District "negotiated with [Kitcho] an agreement whereby she would resign, receive a severance payment in the amount of the remaining balance on her contract, receive no negative notation in her personnel file, and, in fact, receive a letter of recommendation that would extol her skills as a teacher and the favorable terms of her discharge," according to the complaint.
This is the standard way school districts deal with complaints about abusive teachers. As repeated lawsuits have shown, administrators seek to protect the reputation of their own district rather than protect children in the schools to which the abusive teachers will be sent.
In this case, the families say they learned about the abuses after a "citizen activist" requested and eventually received public records of the investigation.
The parents and guardians seek damages and punitive damages for unreasonable seizure, excessive force, due process violations, ADA violations, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
They are represented by Christopher Finney of Cincinnati and Curt Hartman, of Amelia.