Bentonville Parent Alleges Abuse, Sues School District And Vista Health

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The parent of a Bentonville kindergarten student is suing the school district, saying school officials allowed the child to be transferred to a day treatment center where he was abused, assaulted and physically restrained.

As first reported by 5NEWS, the parent, identified as Brittany O. in federal documents, filed a federal lawsuit last week against the Bentonville School District, Vista Health and the Arkansas Department of Education. Among those named as defendants in the lawsuit are Supt. Michael Poore; Tanya Sharp, director of special education; Brad Reed, director of student services; and Tom Kimbrell, state Department of Education commissioner. Several other officials are also named in the lawsuit.

The suit claims Brittany’s son was taken out of his kindergarten class several times during the 2012-13 school year and forced to attend a day treatment center program with Vista Health, a mental health organization with several facilities in Northwest Arkansas. The child was put into the program without the consent or knowledge of the parent, and violates the child’s right to a free public education, the parent claims in the lawsuit.

While in Vista Health’s care, the child was assaulted and abused, while being physically restrained, the lawsuit claims. The child and his parent “suffered irreparable harm,” including “emotional distress and other injuries, and have incurred actual damages in an undetermined amount,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit does not specifically state what instances of assault or abuse the boy may have encountered through Vista Health, but lawyer Theresa Caldwell said workers would sometimes physically grab and move the boy, leaving marks and bruises.

Caldwell represents the mother in the case. Caldwell said she documented about 250 instances of physical restraint and abuse.

The parent alleges the child was misplaced into the Vista Health program because of Medicaid benefits and payments the program received from the school district. The plaintiff said she tried to get her son out of the program, but was not allowed to retrieve him from the care of Vista Health.

The problem is not isolated to one case, Caldwell said. Numerous other Northwest Arkansas parents have contacted Caldwell to report similar situations with their own children, she said.

Caldwell said she hopes to raise enough awareness out of the issue to change the system and prevent school districts from pawning off children to behavioral health centers that are not equipped to give children the proper education to which they are entitled.

“You don’t have big money coming out of this. You want big change,” she said.

The lawsuit states Bentonville School District administrators “had authority to institute corrective measures and had knowledge of the actions,” but were “deliberately indifferent.”

Caldwell said school administrators gave the mother the false impression that placing the child in the Vista Health center was her only option. School officials instead should have placed the child in the school district’s special education program, for which the district receives money to maintain.

The boy is now a first-grader and recently saw the Vista Health building while reporting to a separate appointment. He was so traumatized by seeing the building that he was emotional distraught and physically sick, Caldwell said.

The suit was filed March 5 in federal court. It was assigned to Kristine G. Baker, a U.S. District Court judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock, according to federal court documents.

5NEWS sought comment on the lawsuit from the school district, but administrators said the issue is confidential.

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