Lawsuit filed against county Board of Education, teacher for unlawful act on disabled student

Friday, April 3, 2015

By Ivory Riner

Staff Writer

The Marshall County Board of Education and a former Oak Grove Elementary School teacher have been accused of negligence and abuse in a federal lawsuit seeking more than a half-million dollars in damages.

The suit, filed March 20 by Thomas Spiller, alleges that Oak Grove Elementary School teacher Amy Thompson Morris abused Spiller's disabled son. The suit also claims that the MCBE has "failed to adequately train and supervise its employees" and that its actions constitutes "deliberate indifference" to the right of the plantiffs and other disabled students.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for Middle Tennessee on March 20. The plantiff in the suit is Thomas Spiller, father of former Oak Grove student Noah Spiller.

Marshall County Director of Schools Jackie Abernathy was out of town during spring break when contacted on Wednesday. However, responding to questions via text message, she wrote:

"I have not had a chance to talk to (MCBE attorney) John Schwalb because this did not come in until late Thursday, and I have not talked with him since it came. Until I know more about the charges, I have no comment. Sorry."

The lawsuit revolves around the alleged mistreatment of Noah Spiller, age 6 at the time of the incident on April 8, 2014.

Noah is said to be suffering from epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, legal blindness, ventricular peritoneal shunt placement, mild cerebral palsy and boarder-line autism. The suit alleges that this is due in part, to Noah Spillers's "natural mother" abusing him as an infant by inserting salt water through a feeding tube "during multiple efforts" to end youngter's life. The result is said to a catastrophic stroke permanently impairing his cerebral functioning, vision and development.

According to the lawsuit, Morris, who was a teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School the time, excessively restrained Noah's arm and proceeded to violently and aggressively pull him into line with the other children in order for the children to walk in a straight line in the hallway on the way to lunch.

While in the cafeteria, Morris allegedly grabbed Noah by the shoulders and forcefully seated him into a chair. She then prohibited him from further movement by holding his left hand in her lap. Unable to release his hand, Noah could not feed himself because he is left-handed.

Morris's conduct allegedly resulted in injuries to Noah, including fingernail gouge marks and a bruise to his wrist resembling a handprint.

He also allegedly had finger tip marks on the left side of the base of his neck and upper shoulder area and a bruise in the lower portion of the back. The court filing states the bruise corresponds with the area on the chair where the support connects the back of the chair to the seat.

It states additionally that alleged Lisa Mims informed her son's teacher and school principal, Becky Hill, and it also states that Mims notified Noah's parents at their home later that afternoon. According to the lawsuit, the school administration did not notify Noah's parents of the incident.

Spiller claims that his attempt to call the school was unsuccessful and that he then emailed Hill later that evening regarding the incident asking for a full investigation. He stated that Noah would not return to the school until the incident was fully investigated.

Noted in the lawsuit, Hill notified Spiller the following day that she had a Department of Child Services (DCS) referral, contacted Jackie Abernathy, Marshall County School Superintendent and Jackie Morris, Special Education Director, and spoke with the School Resource Officer of the abuse.

According to the lawsuit, neither Morris or two of the regular teacher aides for Noah's class were present the day DCS was at the school for interviews.

The suit charges that days later, Spiller met with Abernathy who stated, according to files, that she conducted an investigation and no witnesses were located.

Spiller later called Hill notifying her of the Extenuating Circumstance Policy that exempt Noah from school since his safety was a concern. Hill is said to have stated that Morris would return to school the following day and refused to approve removing Noah from the class. Hill also allegedly threatened the Spillers with truancy if Noah did not return to school. Although, according to the file, she gave him the option of transferring Noah to a different school or home-schooling him.

The Spillers were unsuccessful with finding another elementary school in their district equipped to meet Noah's educational needs, the suit states.

They were later told Noah would be eligible for homebound education services through the district, something the Spillers were allegedly not notified of by Hill.

Morris returned to school, but Noah did not.

Oh April 16, the suit says, Noah's pediatrician notated bruising to his lower back and informed them that his chances of having a seizure increased due to the alleged abuse by Morris.

The suit says that Noah later started receiving homebound educational services from Jackie Morris 45 minutes per week; however, the Spillers said they were notified later that students are to receive three hours of services per week. Furthermore, the Spillers were required to transport Noah to the Central Office in Marshall County to receive these services, and his former elementary school for 30 minutes once a week for speech therapy services.

According to the lawsuit, Morris was removed from her job at Oak Grove after an additional incident occurred.

After returning to school at Oak Grove following Morris' removal, Noah was subjected to verbal abuse in December of 2014 by a substitute teacher, who was later asked to not return.

The Spillers removed Noah from the Marshall County School district and are seeking compensatory damages, attorney's fees and costs against the MCBE and Morris for violation of the 14th Amendment, Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act rights.

Furthermore, Morris is also being accused of retaliation, outrageous conduct, intentional infliction of emotional distress, battery, assault, false imprisonment, neglegence and neglegence per se.

The suit requests no less than $250,000 from the MCBE on at least two of the charges, $100,000 from Morris for what it terms as "outrageous conduct" as well as court costs and attorney's fees. A trial date has not been set.