Lawsuit against North Platte, 3 employees claim bullying

The North Platte School District and three employees are named defendants in an lawsuit alleging bullying against a student with Down Syndrome.

The case filed last month alleges 11 counts against the district and individuals, including Superintendent Karl Matt, former Elementary principal Cathy Hubble and special-education para Christine Roper.

The 53-page petition lays out an alleged pattern of abuse, including a count for assault levied individually against Roper only for her conduct.

The minor victim entered kindergarten in the district in August of 2016. The district and the victim’s mother met to construct an individualized education plan. Hubble assigned Roper to work nearly-exclusively with the girl for most of the school day, accompanying her on trips between her general education classroom and the special education room.

“The School District is aware of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a student,” Matt said. “The District refutes the allegations in the Petition. The District strives to create a safe environment for all students and places the highest importance on the safety of its students, staff, and patrons. Students privacy and federal laws prevent us from commenting on the stories in it.  However, we strive to meet every student’s needs.”

The lawsuit says that family members began noticing a change in behavior in the girl including yelling at her dolls to ‘sit down and stay there until the work is done,’ ‘shut up’ and that she ‘hated them.’

In the fall of 2016 the girl started to not want to attend school, protesting getting on the bus saying ‘Not my Ms. Roper.’

In September and October of 2016 the lawsuit alleges Roper contacted the girl’s mother to voice her frustration with the girl and asked how to handle her. According to the lawsuit the girl’s mother met several times with Matt, Hubble and the girl’s regular and special education teachers to remedy the situation.

The girl’s mother then began making requests that the girl be given a different para to work with, all of which were declined or denied according to the court documents.

In a November meeting Hubble said that Roper ‘is just old school’ when interacting with the girl.

In December a member of the Down Syndrome Guild of Kansas City observed some interactions between Roper and the girl and reported that Roper was in a ‘power struggle’ and Roper was overbearing and insisted that the girl do things in the precise way Roper wanted them or she would do them herself, negatively impacting the girl’s learning.

The guild representative spoke with Roper who reported Roper said ‘she’d never met a child she couldn’t break.’

In February of 2017 the girl’s mother put an audio recording device on her child to see what went on during the day, since the girl was speech delayed and couldn’t articulate the frustrations of why she didn’t want to attend North Platte.

Through the audio recording the girl’s mother discovered Roper would take the girl into an unused classroom for minor issues, such as coloring outside the lines or not listening. The recordings also caught Roper allegedly threatening the girl to be forced to sit on a ‘rest mat’ as a punishment for not following directions, not understanding what she was asked to do or otherwise not performing school tasks as desired by Roper — tasks made difficult with her Down Syndrome diagnosis.

The suit also alleges the girl was forced to accompany Roper on non-educational errands, making the girl miss educational time and discriminating against her because of her disability.

The suit alleges that while in the empty classroom the girl was subjected to mental, emotional and physical abuse by Roper.

Roper treated the girl unfairly based on her disability, disciplining, berating, belittling, humiliating and punishing the girl for her failures or inability to comply with demands due to the cognitive and developmental delays.

During the year Roper would routinely force the girl to sit or lay head-down on the rest mat for extended periods of time with just the two in the room together, a violation of board policy, according to the petition. The lawsuit alleges Roper said, ‘We can stay in here all day because I get paid the same either way,’ in the audio recordings.

According to the lawsuit, the girl’s special education instructor brought up to Hubble and Matt her concerns regarding Roper’s contact with the girl, including witnessing Roper drag the girl out of a tent set up in the room by the legs or dragging her to her desk by an arm. The girl’s mother alleges that she witnessed frequent bruising, not likely the result of childhood accidents and would be consistent with the behavior reported by the girl’s teacher.

The lawsuit alleges that Hubble did not investigate the report as required by district policy.

There are 11 counts levied in the petition, eight against all defendants, Roper, Hubble Matt and the district, two against the district only for negligence for conditions of the property and vicarious liability and one solely against Roper for assault, battery, battery to induce apprehension.

The other counts include negligence — breach of ministerial duties, negligence, violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act, Violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, violating the Rehabilitation Act, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, outrageous conduct and negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress.