Former Teacher Accused Of Abuse In Tort Claim

Friday, February 9th 2007, 8:04 pm
By: News On 6

A former Norman school teacher and her aide made a 6-year-old special-needs student sit alone in a dark corner for hours, used police restraint tactics to force her to the ground and tied her to a rope to take her to the bus stop, a $5 million notice of tort claim filed with the district Friday alleges.

The document alleges that Norman resident Kristopher Russow's daughter, who was in a first-grade class for children with special learning needs at Wilson Elementary, was abused during the 2005-2006 school year by teacher Carolyn Sue Shave and her assistant, Christopher Ray Flores.

The girl has been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, a psychiatric illness where she has emotional problems relating to other people, Russow said. She was enrolled in 2004 in the school district in mainstream and special education classes.

While in the special-education classroom, Russow's daughter was subjected to "inhumane punitive and corporal punishment," wrote attorney Alex Bednar.

"If all of these allegations end up being true, this could be one of the more shocking and heinous examples of abuse by public officials that has been exposed in a long time," Bednar said Friday.

The abuse included "shut downs," where the girl was forced to sit in a "segregated, dark, unlit area apart from her peers and the rest of the class." Shutdowns occurred for periods of up to four days in a row, the claim alleges.

"Such actions are outside custom and practice of educational institutions, and Norman Public Schools has condoned such atrocities," Bednar wrote.

The claim also alleges that the girl was kept out of recess and forced to run laps around the school as punishment.

One day last May, Russow said, a bus driver told him that his daughter was being tied up with a rope while at school and taken to the bus at the end of the day.

Additionally, Flores is accused in the claim of using police tactics to subdue the girl by sitting on her and forcing her "to be pressed against the ground for extended periods of time."

The document also claims Flores used "scare tactics" and told children in the class not to tell their parents about his actions.

"How is a 6-year-old supposed to get any education out of being forced to sit in a dark corner all day?" said Russow, a single dad who is now home-schooling both daughters. "This whole fiasco has been a cover up and lies."

Instead of terminating Shave when Russow complained about the alleged abuse last year, the claim states the district moved her to another school to continue her work with special-needs students.

"Flores apparently was moved to Jefferson Elementary in Norman and works there now," the claim states.

Shave resigned from the district last fall after being arrested in September on marijuana charges. She faces a preliminary hearing Monday, according to court records.

Flores was unavailable for comment Friday and referred questions to Norman Schools Superintendent Joe Siano, who also is named as a defendant in the claim.

Attempts to reach Shave for comment were unsuccessful.

Siano said he was "confident in our special education program and the services we provide our students," but could not comment further on the case due to pending litigation.

"Our legal representatives will be looking into it and we'll act accordingly," he said.

Buddy Pendarvis, legal counsel for the district, said he had no comment because of the pending litigation and confidentiality of student records.

Board of Education president Dan Snell did not return a phone call seeking comment.

When Russow complained to school administrators last May about the alleged mistreatment, he said he got nowhere.

He said he was told the school would launch an investigation into his complaints, but that he could not see the results because it was a personnel matter.

"The fact remains, it never sat right with me at all," he said. "People had just totally gotten away with stuff."

Things finally came to a head last month, when he pulled his daughter and her sister out of Norman Public Schools.

Under state law, the district has 90 days to investigate the claim.

Bednar said Friday he also plans to file a federal lawsuit, alleging civil rights and Americans With Disabilities Act violations.