Ashtabula schools facing lawsuit over ex-teacher’s alleged assault of student with special needs

Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 9:44 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 30, 2022 at 11:07 AM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A federal civil rights lawsuit has been filed against Ashtabula Area City Schools, claiming a teacher assaulted a student with special needs.

The complaint was filed by attorneys Jared Klebanow and Avery Friedman in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on May 24th.

Klebanow and Friedman are representing a family who claims their son was choked and clawed by an intervention specialist at Michigan Primary School in 2017.

He was in third grade at the time of the alleged encounter.

The boy’s family claims the student was being punished for entering an area of his classroom he wasn’t supposed to be in. They said the staffer forced the student into a bathroom, placed her hands around his neck, and choked him while yelling at him.

The child threw up on the floor, according to the complaint, further infuriating the teacher, who allegedly made the student clean up his own vomit.

After the boy escaped from the bathroom, his parents claim the intervention specialist dug her nails into the back of the student’s neck and dragged him back into the bathroom, causing his neck to bleed.

“The child was reduced to prayer,” Klebanow told 19 News. “Our children have to feel safe at school so when these cases come around, where educators are assaulting children and holding them against their will in bathrooms, it’s shocking and quite frankly disgusting.”

Through an open records request in June, 19 News obtained hundreds of pages of personnel files, emails, and investigative documents from the school district.

During the same timeframe, we requested comment from Superintendent Dr. Mark Potts.

Our e-mails were not returned.

Prior to a Board of Education meeting on June 29th, Potts spoke to 19 News.

“I can’t comment on it because it’s an active investigation,” he said. “It’s at the Office of Professional Conduct.”

That office falls under the umbrella of the Ohio Department of Education, which subpoenaed the district for the same materials 19 News obtained.

In the court complaint, the family of the student claims the district did not conduct a formal investigation into the incident until 2020, about three years after it happened.

In his investigative report, Dr. Potts said there is enough evidence to suggest the following:

  • The incident in which the student was injured was confirmed by the testimony of the witnesses.
  • The incident was an act of restraint which required both a verbal and written report to be filed with the administration.
  • That an accident report was not completed.
  • That a report was not filed with the Ashtabula County Children Services.
  • That there was no evidence provided or located to support that a restraint or accident report was filed.

In the same report, the superintendent concluded there was not enough evidence to suggest the following:

  • School personnel did not follow school policies related to seclusion.
  • School personnel did not follow school policies related to a meeting with parents.

The attorneys for the family have requested a jury trial and are seeking “appropriate compensatory, exemplary and punitive damages” as well as a declaration that the conduct of the defendants was a violation of the child’s civil rights.

“It’s just something that no child should have to go through or deal with,” Klebanow said. “This is a child with special needs [so] one can imagine how one instance like this can affect not only that school year but numerous school years in the future.”

The teacher resigned in 2019.

In April of 2022, another family claimed their child was choked and bodyslammed by the same staff member several years ago.

Children Services have since been notified of the accusations.

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