Indiana Mom Files Lawsuit Alleging Public School Neglected, Abused Her Autistic Son

| by Jared Keever

An Indiana mother is suing her son’s school district, alleging school employees neglected and abused her son, who is a special-needs student. 

Melissa Christensen, of Wheatfield, Indiana, filed the lawsuit against the Kankakee Valley School Corporation on June 12 in Jasper County Superior Court, WRTV News reports. The case has since been transferred to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Lafayette Division. 

The suit alleges Christensen’s 12-year-old son, Cody, was the victim of “cruel, gratuitous and sadistic acts of mistreatment, psychological and physical abuse … including neglect battery and confinement.”

Cody has been diagnosed with a variety of conditions including autism, anxiety disorder and attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity, according to WRTV.

The suit accuses staff of subjecting Cody to confinement in an isolation room and forcing him to eat lunch alone, away from other students. 

“School employees left Cody in the room unsupervised for extended periods of time multiple times per day on practically a daily basis, on some occasions for approximately 2-3 hours,” the lawsuit reads.

Christensen’s attorney, Tom Blessing, said the case shows one of the longest patterns of abuse and neglect he has seen in his career. 

“In this case, it was just so over the top egregious as far as locking him in this room and keeping Cody isolated from his peers,” he said. 

The suit details alleged incidents dating back as far as March 2013. In one incident Cody was said to have sustained bruises and abrasions as a result of being restrained. 

In a December 2013 incident Cody allegedly sustained rug burns as a result of being dragged across the floor to the isolation room. 

In a December 2014 incident a school employee allegedly pinched the boy’s genitals to get him to cooperate, the lawsuits says.

Blessing said Christensen met with school employees numerous times to address behavioral concerns and how her son was being treated. 

“She didn’t get an attorney right away because she was afraid of the retaliation she would face by the school staff,” he said. 

Melissa Keyes, legal director for Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services, told WRTV that her organization is currently analyzing the way public schools use the so-called isolation rooms with special-needs students. She did not comment directly on Cody’s case, but said schools should seek other remedies before using isolation. 

“Seclusion and restraint are not supposed to be the default,” she said.

Kankakee Valley School Corporation Superintendent Dr. Aaron Case declined to comment on the suit when contacted by WRTV.

“We are not able to discuss ongoing litigation such as this matter,” he said in an email. 

Christensen has reportedly pulled Cody from the school and he is attending classes in Lafayette. 

Her suit is not the first of its kind. 

Last year a southern Indiana mother sued the New Albany Floyd County School District, alleging her 7-year-old autistic son had been kept in a closet that was being used as an isolation room. 

"He's been telling me for a year that he doesn't want to go to school, and I sent him anyway," Kim Gosnell told WDRB News. “Now I know he's been in a closet and that's why he didn't want to go.”

And in March, the Toronto Star reported a Canadian mother was suing an Ontario school district for $16 million, alleging her autistic son had been abused and kept in isolation repeatedly over a period of seven years. 

Sources: WRTV News, WDRB News, Toronto Star / Photo credit: Screenshot via WRTV News