Federal suit says Kanawha board mistreated boy with Down's Syndrome

By Cara Bailey | Apr 17, 2008

CHARLESTON - A Kanawha County woman has filed a federal lawsuit against her son's school system, claiming he was mistreated while a student.

CHARLESTON - A Kanawha County woman has filed a federal lawsuit against her son's school system, claiming he was mistreated while a student.

Tammy Bess filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, against the Kanawha County Board of Education.

Bess filed the suit on behalf of her 17-year-old son, who has Down Syndrome.

According to the suit, Bess' son, known as John Doe in the suit, is currently enrolled in Riverside High School. He was previously a student at East Bank Middle School from 2003 to 2007.

Sarah Hammar, John Doe's teacher at East Bank, Lois Macleery, the aide at East Bank and Candace Adams-Strader, East Bank's principal, are named as defendants, as well as Kanawha BOE employees, Sandy Boggs, Nancy Berry and Joyce Canter.

According to the suit, Hammar and Macleery sent Bess a note April 5, 2007, asking her to keep her son home instead of sending him to school, explaining that they may be called to another class and may have a hard time watching John Doe. The note said he would not be counted absent if he did not come to school.

Bess claims the teachers have sent her similar requests in a periodic basis, starting in 2004. On May 9, 2007, another letter was sent to Bess, asking her to keep her son home during the standardized test known as the West Test.

Bess claims she felt intimidated and threatened by the letter and sent a representative to talk to Adams-Strader, who determined Bess could disregard the letter. John Doe was sent to school, but was not given any assignments while the other students took the West Test.

According to the suit, John Doe was not allowed to use the restroom when needed and was forced to have a bowel movement in his pants.

Later in the year, John Doe was in class when Macleery asked him if he had urinated on himself. John Doe explained he had only spilled juice on himself.

"Macleery did not believe John Doe and took him to the bathroom, made him pull down his pants and underwear so that she could check," the suit says. "This incident humiliated John Doe to the point that he did not want to return to school."

Bess claims she feels her son's teachers were retaliating against her for sending him to school, when they had asked her to keep him home. She also claims she learned that for approximately two years, her son had been excluded from participating in school functions, such as art, music and gym.

According to the suit, Bess contacted the school board and requested to file a complaint. Bess claims the board agreed to investigate the situation, but discouraged her from filing a formal complaint.

Around the first week in August 2007, Bess became aware that no investigation had taken place, the suit says.

As a result, Bess claims John Doe has been deprived of an appropriate public education and has been treated indecently and has suffered humiliation, shame and embarrassment, the suit says.

In the six-count suit, Bess seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Attorney Jonathan L. Matthews is representing Bess.

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