In a typical response to any such lawsuit, the response, which was filed today, not only denied all allegations, but claimed the two-year-old whose parents brought the lawsuit was at fault.
"Plaintiff J. W. (the two-year-old) assumed the risk of removal from the classroom when he was disruptive to other children in the classroom," the response said.
J. W.'s parents, Nick and Adrienne Weston, Oronogo, allege that Exploration Station owners Charyl and Chad Copher and co-defendant Kayla Copher were responsible for false imprisonment of J. W., intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligence due to child endangerment and abuse, with the alleged circumstances spelled out in the petition:
The petition spells out what the Westons claim happened during the short time J. W. was at Exploration Station and how they came to learn about the extent of what had been done to their son:
(O)n or about July, 2017, Nick and Adrienne Weston, legal parents of J.W., engaged the services of Exploration Station Preschool and Childcare for the care of J.W. during the workday. J.W. was a typical two-year-old child that occasionally cried when his parents dropped him at the facility, but according to all written reports the child would be fussy at drop off or nap time, but would be “great” the remainder of the day.
Nick and Adrienne Weston were told by Charyl Copher and Kayla Copher that if a child became too upset, they would contact the parents to come to the facility and calm the child. Over time, the parents noticed that J.W. seemed more upset than usual at drop off and Nick Weston called the facility to discuss how to best address the issue.
Kayla Copher said she appreciated the parents' willingness to work with them, and felt that the child would adjust over time. On one occasion, when Adrienne Weston picked up the child she was informed by two teachers outside the classroom that J.W. was having a “breakdown.”
Upon entering the room, Ms. Weston noticed that Kayla Copher was frustrated with J.W., and she commented that the child seemed to get upset when the teacher in his classroom was switched out during the afternoon.
Again, the Westons discussed with the staff how to address the issue, and Ms. Weston began leaving work early to pick the child up prior to the teacher change in mid-afternoon.
On September 25, 2017 Adrienne Weston received a call from Charyl Copher that J.W. had a “bad fit” right before nap and hit his head and face on his cot, but they didn’t notice any injury until after his nap. There appeared to be some bruising and they were treating it with ice, but didn’t want her to be alarmed at pickup about his condition. Charyl went on to say she had never seen a child act so badly. This confused Ms. Weston, as the written reports on J.W. were always good other than fussy at drop off and nap time.
Ms. Weston arrived at the facility to pick up J.W., and was surprised at the severity of injuries to the face, head and neck of J.W. from hitting a nap cot, and was going to take the child to the doctor immediately. Cheryl, Kayla and the teachers did not have matching accounts of the incident.
She immediately requested a copy of the incident report from Ms. Copher to provide to the doctor. An incident report was reluctantly provided. En route to the doctor, J.W. was unusually clingy and lethargic, and kept complaining he was hungry. The doctor noted the abrasions and scratches, but felt that those would properly heal over time, and the bigger concern was the social aspect of what happened at the facility.
Ms. Weston made the decision to terminate services at Exploration Station, as she felt she was not given an accurate account of the incident with J.W. that resulted in such injuries.
On October 6, 2017, the Westons learned that Exploration Station was closing because all of the childcare teachers voluntarily terminated their employment with the facility.
On October 7, 2017, the Westons were invited to a private Facebook group by former teachers at the facility, and learned that J.W. was emotional and crying the morning of September 25, 2017 in the classroom. The teacher was working to soothe the child when Kayla Copher removed J.W. from his classroom. Kayla returned with him a short time later, and he began to cry. This took place three or four times in a short period of time. The last time the child was not returned to the classroom.
The classroom teacher stuck her head out the door of the classroom to look for J.W., and she could hear him screaming her name. She went toward the child and found he was being forced to lay on the lunchroom floor. The child attempted to get to his teacher, and Charyl and Kayla would not allow it.
The child was removed behind closed doors with Charyl and Kayla, so that no other staff members could witness their actions. The child was then locked in a dark room alone until he could calm down, and was not fed any lunch.
The child was returned to the classroom for nap time where he appeared so scared he would not even move on his cot, and it was at this time that the injuries were noted by the teacher.
Charyl Copher typed an untruthful statement regarding the incident, and told each staff member they were required to sign the statement, so they “would all have the same story in case the State comes in to investigate.”
The teachers/staff members all chose to voluntarily terminate their employment based on this incident, and the facility closed October 6, 2017.
(S)ince September 25, 2017 J.W. has suffered from severe separation anxiety if one or both the parents leave his presence, and suffers from fear of the dark at bedtime and night terrors which were not present prior to actions of the Defendants. The child is in need of psychological care and therapy as result of the Defendants’ actions.
Nick Weston and Adrienne Weston have suffered and continue to suffer emotional distress because of the injuries and suffering of their small child at the hands of Defendants.
The Westons, who are represented by the Tracey Martin Law Office, Joplin, are seeking at least $25,000 in actual damages, punitive damages and costs. They are asking for a jury trial.
In the response, the Cophers said that they, too, want a jury trial.
The Cophers' attorney is Olivia McNair of the Springfield firm of Franke, Schultz & Mullen.