BROWNSBURG, Ind. — It was 56 days before the parents of a Brown Elementary School special needs student were notified that he was allegedly forced by staff to eat his own vomit.
“For the child that was involved and the parents and the family, I feel horrible,” said former Brownsburg parent Lee Geddes.
According to court documents, the lunchroom incident occurred on Feb. 16. The school said officials weren’t aware until the late evening of April 12.
However, an attorney for the family of the student said the family only learned of the abuse on April 17, the same day it was reported by local media outlets.
The Brownsburg Community School Corporation released a statement about its procedures regarding parent notification.
“BCSC’s practice is to notify families as soon as our internal investigation is complete,” the statement said. “In any instance where law enforcement is involved, the protocols may be adjusted to support the investigation.”
The family of the Brown Elementary student has hired an attorney to determine the next legal steps.
Catherine Michael, Connell Michael Kerr, LLP and Tammy Meyer, Metzger Rosta, LLP, who represent the family in the Brownsburg Indiana School Abuse case, released a statement exclusive to FOX59/CBS4:
“Schools have a fundamental responsibility to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for all students, and they must be held accountable when they fail to do so. The recent case of school abuse in Brownsburg Community Schools is a shocking example of the larger issue at hand. Even though multiple school personnel witnessed the abuse, they failed to intervene and failed to report it. It is hard to imagine how such horrific abuse could occur without immediate intervention, and it is alarming that without the video evidence, this abuse might have gone unpunished and unnoticed. It is critical for parents that if you or someone you know suspects a child has been or is being abused at school contact local authorities and seek advice from legal counsel.
This situation is a sign of a more extensive issue of inadequate enforcement of Indiana’s special education laws and insufficient supervision of staff in our schools. It is critical that we take action to prevent any child from experiencing abuse or mistreatment in school. We must recognize that the lack of accountability in schools is a severe problem and take measures to make our schools safe for all students.”Attorney’s representing student’s family
Police say the video shows Life Skills teacher Sara Seymour laughing during the interaction and Debra Kanipe hands the 7-year-old a spoon to scoop up the vomit and then eat it.
“It was surprising,” said Brown Elementary parent Amber White. “A little scary, because of the fact that my two children are special needs and will be going to that school.”
White has four boys who are in the special education program at the school. She said she has thought about switching schools.
“They are picky with foods and certain things have to be done in certain ways,” said White.
Five school staffers were arrested and charged in connection to the incident. Two of the staffers, Seymour and Kanipe were arrested are charged with “felony neglect of a dependent”. They’re set to appear in court on Friday.
“I think it is just a few bad apples ruining it for everybody else,” said Geddes.
White said she believes issues are swept under the rug often.
“They come home telling me stories of what happens,” she said. “And then you go to the teachers and they say it never happened so nothing is ever cleared.”
Others, like Geddes who also had children in the school, said they would have never guessed something like this would happen.
“I feel bad for the other teachers who go to work every day and spend 10-12 hours doing their job, and then this happens,” said Geddes.
Court documents continuously state that the Department of Child Services was never contacted.
“If we don’t make that report, it means a person could get away with this and do this to another child, and that is never okay,” said the Director of Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, Jeff Wittman.
Wittman said children are resilient and there are correct ways to navigate a situation of trauma.
“I always recommend, first of all, believe the child,” he said. “If they come to you it is hard for them to do that first of all and you want to believe them. You want to have a trauma-informed approach.”
He also said to ask the right questions.
“It is asking questions such as ‘This must be difficult. Thank you for coming to me. How can I help? What can I do and what happened?’,” Wittman said. “Stay away from questions that could be blaming and stay away from questions that could question whether you believe them or not.”
“If the facility where your child has been hurt or abused does not know about this, engage in constructive conversation with them,” he added. “So they know what has happened and what has been reported to you and they know you have reported this to DCS. They can work with you to improve things in the future.”
The DCS hotline number is 1-800-800-5556.