BROWNSBURG, Ind. – Saying they had endured emotional distress and suffering, the family of a Brownsburg student who was told to eat his own vomit plans to file a lawsuit against Brownsburg Community Schools.
In tort claims obtained by FOX59/CBS4, the family seeks damages for “gross negligence and willful misconduct, personal injury, physical distress, financial injury and negligent infliction of emotional distress.” The documents are redacted to remove identifying information about the student and his family.
The case is being handled by Connell Michael Kerr, LLP. A tort claim is the first step in notifying the district of a possible lawsuit seeking damages.
The tort notices stem from a February 16, 2023, incident in which a 7-year-old special needs student was given a spoon and told to eat his own vomit at Brown Elementary School. Multiple members of the staff witnessed the incident, which went unreported for nearly two months. School administrators didn’t learn about it until April 12.
The discovery led to criminal charges against four staff members: Sara Seymour, Debra Kanipe, Julie Taylor and Kristen Mitchell. All four have been terminated. Meghan King, a registered behavioral technician working for Kids Count, was also charged criminally, although she didn’t work directly for the school and couldn’t be fired by the district.
A sixth adult who heard about the incident but didn’t report it has submitted her letter of resignation. She’s not charged criminally, and termination proceedings have been initiated.
According to the Brownsburg Police Department, Seymour advised the 7-year-old student that, if he vomited, he would have to eat whatever he threw up. The child, on a tray provided by Taylor, indeed vomited, at which point Kanipe provided the child with a spoon.
Seymour and Kanipe stood on either side while the boy ate a portion of the vomit, police said. The child then used paper towels to clean up what remained. Mitchell and King witnessed what happened.
According to the probable cause affidavit, video showed the incident and the involvement of the five staff members. None of them reported it. The student, who is nonverbal, was incapable of communicating what happened.
The child’s mother “found herself in a state of shock” after seeing video of the incident on April 14, according to the tort notice. She had been called to a meeting with Superintendent Jim Snapp and Principal Annie Lesko, who informed her they’d “just” learned what happened.
According to the complaint, the video depicted the child “eating and then appearing to choke on his food. The result of the choking was that the child projectile vomited on a table next to Sara Seymour who appeared to be smiling and laughing. Julie Taylor placed a tray in front of [the student] just before he vomited, after which Debra Kanipe gave [the student] a spoon to scoop up the vomit.”
The video showed the 7-year-old take “several bites of vomit, swallowing them and crying” as “numerous school personnel” watched.
The boy’s mother learned the story was already public knowledge, as Brownsburg Community School Corporation had sent out a news release to local media. The parent said she was provided with “limited” information other than the video. She later learned Brownsburg police had opened an investigation on April 12 and interviewed staff members.
No one who witnessed what happened reported it to the Department of Child Services or police.
The tort claim said the parent noticed a change in her son’s behavior starting in January 2023. She now wonders if her son may have experienced other mistreatment leading up to the vomit incident. The tort claim noted that police didn’t ask about prior possible abuse when interviewing the staff members.
“There is irrefutable evidence that the abuse occurred,” the tort said. “There is a school security camera video of the abuse as it occurred. The video is time-stamped and dated. There were numerous witnesses to the abuse. The persons who caused the abuse admitted to their actions when interviewed by police. There is more than sufficient evidence to show that [the student] was abused at school, by school staff and employees, during school hours.”
Also from the claim:
“The child abuse by the District’s staff and the District allowing the victim to be exposed to
abuse from school staff members that occurred on school property and during school hours is
evidence of its deliberate indifference and illustrates its reckless and grossly negligent acts or
omissions of individuals employed by the District, as well as the District’s wrongful or absent
policies and practices.”
The tort accuses the district of inflicting emotional and physical pain along with negligent hiring, supervision and training, negligent care and supervision of students.