Friday, May 19, 2017
Lawsuit claims Carthage Special Ed teacher bullied autistic child, stepping his fingers, rubbing his face in spit
The teacher, Deborah Westmoreland, is no longer working for the Carthage R-9 School District and had been the subject of complaints, according to information included in the lawsuit.
The situation was referred to Child Services, the lawsuit said, and paraprofessionals who worked with Westmoreland told investigators that the teacher had unusual methods for dealing with students who were not behaving as she wanted them to behave.
In the Children’s Division report, Exhibit “A,” a paraprofessional reported that, “If children were acting out and were on the floor, Ms. Westmoreland would step on their fingers and would say, ‘Oop’s that’s what happens when you throw a fit or you’re on the floor.’ With the most recent event occurring on[at that time] December 2.” Further, this same paraprofessional stated that, “It [standing on the fingers] happened more than once and then she[Ms. Westmoreland] asked us to participate; she said when they are on the floor me and Ms. Whitten should step on their fingers too.”
The lawsuit was filed by the parents of J. W. M., an autistic child who is "non-verbal and unable to effectively communicate with those around him."
The parents had noticed that J. W. M., no longer enjoyed school and cried and acted out when it was time to go to class.
He had begun wetting his pants and his mother suspected that the problem might lie with J. W. M.'s teacher.
The mother said she saw Westmoreland "physically restrain J. W. M. in the hallway, but the mother was not allowed to observe what was going on in the classroom.
She finally reported the situation to Child Services, which initiated an investigation.
The lawsuit names Westmoreland, Columbian Principal Brian Shalleburger and R-9 Superintendent Sean Smith as defendants.
Shalleburger told Child Services, "Mrs. Westmoreland can be aggressive."
Westmoreland said no one had ever told her she had been aggressive and that there had been times when she "accidentally" stepped on children's fingers.
The six-count action charges the teacher with battery and the R-9 officials with negligence.
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, costs and fees and are asking for a jury trial.