Parents Claim Teachers Abused Special Needs Students

Wednesday, November 28th 2007, 3:48 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Special needs students at Norman Public Schools were routinely mistreated, forced to sit alone in dark rooms for hours and confined with police restraint tactics, according to a lawsuit filed this week on behalf of five students. The federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City, names as defendants the Norman Public School District, the board of education, Superintendent Joseph Siano and more than a dozen current and former employees of the district.

The attorney representing the families, Alexander Bednar, previously filed a $5 million notice of tort claim with the district in February. Among the allegations in the lawsuit are that Carolyn Shave, a former special education teacher for the district, and her assistant, Christopher Flores, restrained a student, identified in the lawsuit only as "A.C.," with police restraint holds, forced his head onto the floor and sat on him.

"Defendants Shave and/or Flores employed improper police restraint and strangle holds, forced A.C.'s hands behind his back and sat on A.C.'s neck and back for extended periods of time, slammed his head down, pressed and held A.C.'s head and body against the floor for extended periods of time, and, further, dragged him across the floor of the classroom," the lawsuit states.

Similar allegations were levied in the lawsuit against Shave, Flores and other special education teachers by other students and their parents.

An attorney for Norman Public Schools, Buddy Pendarvis, said he couldn't comment on the specific allegations raised in the suit, but that the district denies it has violated any of the rights of the families bringing the lawsuit.

"We can say that we believe the school district and its employees have at all times acted properly and within the bounds of the law," Pendarvis said in a statement. "We intend to defend this lawsuit vigorously, and we are confident that the court will ultimately determine that the claims made in this lawsuit are completely without merit."

Shave resigned from the district in 2006 after being charged with numerous drug-related offenses after a search of her Norman home turned up marijuana plants, hallucinogenic mushrooms, trace amounts of cocaine and drug paraphernalia. She pleaded no contest to three drug charges and received a deferred sentence, according to court records.

A telephone message left Wednesday at Shave's home was not immediately returned. There was on telephone listing in Norman for Flores. Court records do not indicate if either has an attorney.

Kristopher Russow, whose daughter was a student at Wilson Elementary School in Norman, is one of the plaintiffs in the suit. He said he was spurred to action after a bus driver told him his daughter's teacher was bringing her to the bus each day tied up with a rope.

"Who in God's name has the right to tie up a child with a rope?" Russow said. "It's 2007, and I don't think there's any piece of legislation that would allow that."

Russow said he initially removed his two children from Norman schools and home-schooled them, but that they returned to school earlier this year at Eisenhower Elementary School in Norman.

"I will give them accolades as to how my children are being treated now," Russow said. "She has very few problems, and there's been quite a bit of prosperity, academically."