HOUSTON (CN) - A Texas teacher made students bully a mentally handicapped first-grader "like a pack of dogs," and left the classroom as they "hit, kicked, and scratched" the girl, who is "still traumatized" more than three years later, her mother claims in court.
On behalf of her daughter, J.M., Theresa Michael sued North Forest Independent School District, A.G. Hilliard Elementary School teachers Nichole Hines and Katrina Burnside, and school principal Victor Nash.
North Forest Independent School District was closed in July this year and absorbed into Houston Independent School District. Houston Independent kept open seven North Forest ISD schools, and A.G. Hilliard Elementary was one of them, a school district employee said.
HISD spokeswoman Holly Huffman declined to comment on whether Nash, Hines or Burnside still work there. "It is not our practice to comment on pending litigation," Huffman said in an interview.
In her lawsuit, Michael says: "The culture at this elementary school was known to be abusive, harsh and hostile to children who had behavior problems, including and especially those with a disability like J.M. Specifically, staff had a practice and pattern of using other students in the class to discipline those students who purportedly had misbehaved, by beating them up. The mind set was that 'children who don't understand need to be beaten.'
"Ms. Hines was known to be one of the worst offenders. She would leave the student who had misbehaved in the classroom with students of the same gender, and would leave the classroom with the rest of the class to go to the bathroom while the student was 'rushed' and the beating took place."
Other teachers sent children to Hines' classroom for their punishment, Michael says in the complaint.
Michael claims that when her daughter began showing signs of a mental handicap she asked her homeroom teachers to evaluate her for special education services as required by federal law - but she never got a response.
Despite her daughter's handicap, Hines and J.M.'s teacher Burnside showed no mercy for her, Michael says.
"J.M. reports that on at least one occasion, Burnside had a student from the 5th grade hit J.M. with a ruler while Burnside was out of the classroom," the complaint states. "In and around May 24, 2010, J.M. was purportedly misbehaving. Burnside sent J.M. to Hines' classroom, where she was assaulted by a number of girls in that class. One was even J.M.'s best friend, Sanaa J.
"Sanaa later reported that her teacher (Ms. Hines) told a group of girls in the class to 'jump J.M.' and then Hines left the room. The students 'rushed her,' tackled J.M. from behind, began punching her, kicking her, scratching her and pulling out her pony tail. They hit, kicked and scratched J.M. in the nose, face, back, neck, head and shoulders. The assault ceased when Hines opened the door, told them to stop and told them they '... had done a good job jumping J.M.'" (Parentheses and ellipses in complaint.)
After this assault, Michael says in the complaint, Hines saw J.M. in a hallway and asked her, "Do you want to get beat up again?"
After J.M.'s beating became public, several other children told their parents they had been participants in, and/or victims of, Hines' orchestrated beatings, Michael says.
J.M. then "began to have severe trust issues and started to act out against adults," the complaint states. "This is not surprising in light of the fact the teacher, Hines, who she was supposed to look up to, was leading her friends against her, treating them like a pack of dogs."
An anxiety attack from the beating required J.M. to be hospitalized, her mother says. The girl then was transferred to a different school district, "where her disability was recognized and addressed appropriately," according to the complaint.
But J.M. continues to have emotional and behavior problems from the beating, her mother claims.
Michael seeks damages for civil rights violations, medical expenses, past and future mental anguish, pain and suffering, and Americans with Disabilities Act violations. She also seeks a declaration that the Texas Education Agency's one-year statute of limitations does not apply to her daughter's case.
She is represented by Martin Cirkiel with Cirkiel & Associates of Round Rock.
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