MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — A lawsuit filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court details allegations of abuse of a 6-year-old student with special needs by multiple employees at North Elementary School.
The Monongalia County Board of Education, the student’s special needs teacher Diana Ellis and aide Chrissy Areford are named as defendants.
The incident is alleged to have happened on Nov. 16, 2022, but the suit says it wasn’t until Feb. 23, 2023, that the mother of the student learned what investigators found happened to her child.
The mother, according to the lawsuit then requested, through an attorney, to review video footage from the incident, and was able to see it on March 10.
Classroom 139, which the student was in during the incident, according to the lawsuit, is set up so that the “time out” section of the classroom is obscured from the view of the camera by a barrier, meaning some of what happened was not captured on video, but was audible.
According to the suit, the defendants should have been aware that the “time out” area is obscured from the camera’s view.
Court documents allege the Nov. 16 incident started at 12:24 p.m., when Areford, Destiny Powers, and two other aides were seated at a table with four students with special needs in Classroom 139, and Ellis was at her desk in the teacher/aides area.
The student entered the room, and appeared to start playing with a cardboard box.
At 12:26 p.m., Areford allegedly pointed at the student and said, “You piece of s***, why don’t you [unintelligible].” The video, according to the suit, showed the student prodding a different student with special needs seconds later, before Areford yelled “Hey, you crack him, and [we or he] will mess you up.”
Immediately afterward, the video, according to the suit, showed the child appearing to run over to another special needs student and place “hands around the student’s neck.”
That’s when, the suit alleges, Areford took ahold of both of the student’s hands, pulled them backward, moved the student away, and took the student to the time out area, away from the camera’s view.
At 12:34 p.m., the student can be heard crying out “ow” and “no,” before beginning to scream and cry very loudly at 12:35 p.m.; the suit alleges Ellis told Areford “You break him! You break him!” before retrieving “a thick black belt from across the classroom” and handing it to Powers.
Powers is accused of using the belt to restrain the child’s arms as Areford physically detained the child.
Then, the suit alleges Ellis retrieved an unspecified type of oil from a cabinet and applied it to the child.
Four special needs students were removed from the room at 12:37 p.m., leaving only one other student in the room, the suit said.
The 6-year-old continued to cry, sob and shout “please,” “no” and “stop” repeatedly, the suit said.
The final other student was escorted out at 12:44 p.m., the suit alleges, and Areford said “I will break you down!” while the student continued to scream and cry while begging “No, no, no.”
Ellis then allegedly turned off the lights and said, “I don’t care what you want. If you can’t be quiet, this is what’s going on. This is what happens.”
She then “mocked [the child] and mimicked [their] cries, ‘Wah! Ha Ha Ha, Wah! So unhappy [initials], I’m so unhappy, I’m so unhappy, I’m going to cry like you. Wah! Wah! Wah! Wah!'”
At 12:52 p.m., the suit alleges Ellis is heard asking “How do you like that?” before the child screams in pain. The child “yelled ‘Stop!’ after which a loud crashing sound is heard, followed by Ellis saying ‘That’s how mad I am!'” Areford, is then heard telling the child “I’m going to make you uncomfortable” before “the distinct sound of a slap is heard,” the suit said.
Ellis, according to the suit, is then heard saying, “If you kick me, I will put my foot right back on yours,” and the child is heard groaning in pain.
Another loud crash is heard at 12:56 p.m., followed by the child screaming. Ellis is then accused of covering the child with a blanket.
At 1 p.m., the suit said, Ellis is heard mocking the child again, saying “Help, H E L P, help, help, let’s see, help, on help, help me, help me…. Why are you so bad [initials]? Why are you so bad?” before Areford allegedly said “I’m going to wear him down!” and Ellis “responded to Areford’s comment with an evil laugh.”
The other students begin to re-enter at 1:02 p.m., according to the suit.
Areford refers to the student as a “little psycho maniac” while speaking with another aide, the suit said.
Then, at 1:10 p.m., the child is seen emerging from the camera’s blindspot, holding their head; they continued to hold their head while walking around the room, according to the suit.
Further, the suit details that school employees did not report possible abuse within 24 hours, as is required by West Virginia state law.
The suit claims that when the child’s mother picked them up that day, the child said “hurt” several times, but due to the child’s special needs, the child was unable to elaborate further, and the mother wasn’t able to see any physical injuries on her child, so she believed her child was referring to their teeth.
It wasn’t until Feb. 14 that the mother learned that North Elementary School administrators were put on leave “due to an incident,” and it wasn’t until Feb. 21 that the mother was informed over the phone that her child was “in the classroom” when an “improper restraint occurred,” but she was not told that it was her child who had been improperly restrained, the suit said.
Then, on Feb. 23, the mother was told by an investigator that her child “was thrown down; a teacher stomped on [initials]’s feet and laughed; [initials] cried out ‘no’, ‘let go’, and ‘stop’ repeatedly; and the incident occurred off camera.”
The lawsuit is alleging that all of the defendants are guilty of negligence, violating the West Virginia Human Rights Act and reckless infliction of emotional distress and that Ellis and Areford are guilty of assault and battery.
It is asking for a jury trial, for the jury to determine compensatory damages, punitive damages against Ellis and Areford, for pre and post-judgement interest, attorney’s fees, and if deemed fair and just, other and further relief.