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.

27 comments

  • john

    I don’t know the specifics of this case/situation, but typically these law suits are totally bogus and the truth is stretched to the point that the case will be thrown out, or the jury won’t buy it.

    It sounds like some lawyer has wined and dined the “parent” and promised her/him big money to “just do this”.

    I don’t buy it.

    First of all this child must have severe mental issues to of went to the mental day care.

    Second of all any person who is put in soft restraints is placed in those for their own protection.

    If your child was having a psychotic break and running/slamming his body into a brick wall, would you want someone to stop him before he caused himself massive and fatal head trauma? This is the standard of care.

    I don’t buy this at all.

    The school districts have no interest in hurting children and Vista health is a great facility that is full of licensed professionals who document everything by the book.

    That place is full of cameras and it will be hard to prove anything that isn’t true.

    I feel sorry for this poor child. It seems that the school district and state tax payers have already spent $100,000’s of taxpayer money on this family and now the child has been pulled away from the very help that he needs.

    I hope the child gets the help that he/she needs.

    Typically in these types of cases the parents are just angry and looking for a quick buck.

    I have seen this many times. The courts will throw out these types of cases 95% of the time once the facts start to come out.

    • Amanda

      Well I am a parent who indeed has facts about how the Bentonville School District and Vista Health work. 1st off they do not have to have SEVERE Mental health issues to be sent there, most kids there have either A. Got in trouble B. Was Bullying C. Needed daily therapy, Vista sends SEVERE mental issued patients to their in house treatment hospital in Fayetteville. 2. They do restrain the children if needed or isolate them in rooms, even if they are not a harm to others but just rather having attitude or a meltdowns. 3. The education they are teaching is way off from normal classrooms.4. I never seen cameras every but just a few in that Center but it is more so of it being locked down.

      I regretted my daughter having been put there because she was having a social withdrawl from everyone at school. I threatened to call the Health Department on them several times for throwing all the students coats in one big pile in the floor upon morning arrival and left there until someone went through them and not to mention the children are scanned in with a wand like a criminal,and searched. My daughter suffered several rounds of headlice do to this piling of coats to the point I started taking her coat home with me and did not leave one at school
      She suffers from a great deal of stress from the 4 months they sent her there “again for being a social withdrawl from other students”. It took alot of convincing to get her pulled out of there and she is now scared of Bentonville Schools. She has never had issued like this before and still has not had any since getting her discharged.

    • Tonya

      John, First off, where did you get the “details” in your statement??. I did not read anything about “soft restraints” or “the child running around slamming their head on a wall!!” You are a fool to think Vista Health is SO GREAT Or anyother facility for that matter, while they do have professionals working for them, they also have regular everyday people that work in that facility. People who are there ONLY FOR A PAYCHECK and that doesnt give a rats @$$ about the welfare or welbeing a anyone there. they go to work because they have bills to pay. Thats in any business, AND there are people to go to work for that paycheck that cant stand kids or certain ones at least. They go thru some training but that does not mean that they dont abuse or mistreat the residents. YOU ARE ALSO DEAD WRONG to believe that the school officials HAVE THE RIGHT to take a child WITHOUT the CONSENT OR KNOWLEDGE of the parents or a doctor and have them sent to a mental health or behavioral facility. There are leagal steps that HAVE TO be taken and if that child was a danger to him/herself they would FIRST have to file a police report then a FINS case ( Families In Need of Services), take the issue before a local judge & court and then have something done OTHERWISE they have to have the parents knowledge and consent. If this child was in need of help WHY didnt they address the issue with the parents to get him the help?? Now Im not saying ALL staff or all facilites are bad but they arent all great either. You really should have, all of the facts and have them straight before you think that a parent is just out to make a quick buck. Its NOT that easy to file a case against a facility, their has be legitiment issues for a lawyer to want to take on a case like this. They will not waist their time if they dont think they have a case an cant win. ALSO a child DOES NOt have to have “SEVERE MENTAL ISSUES” inorder to be put in a facility like this and I find it VERY STRANGE that they were ONLY putting him in there during school hours and werent seeking full time help for the child if he/she was SOOOO in need of help. WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF THIS HAPPENED TO YOU AND YOUR CHILD? THINK ABOUT THAT!!

      • mitchell author

        I can tell you one thing, I sure as hell wouldn’t sit by and “document” 250 different incidences of abuse/restraint of my child before I did something!!

  • jj

    My son has been in the care of vista for 2 years and they have changed our lives for the better..i have nothing but respect for tbe staff that takes care of him he is ten yrs old now and tells me everything even tho there have been some restraints it it for the safety of him and everybody else…he lovves it there!and i find it hard to believe they would ever harm a child!!

  • John

    Different John than the one before here. Many of the techs in the Fayetteville facility are uneducated- at least one ex-felon has worked there-,and some look for reasons to restrain the children- sometimes provoking them. Many of the children should not be committed (funny how profit motives make more patients and prisoners); if they didn’t have severe problems before going in then they may after a few months there. However, this story is missing many relevant facts. Regardless, Vista is a money machine, so nothing is changing either way.

  • mitchell author

    You mean to tell me in a 178 day school year this mother sat by and “documented” while her child was abused/restrained 250 times? Where does parental neglect come into play here? What about common sense? Did she forget her responsibilities as a parent? There is also a thing called “freedom of choice”. If you are not happy with the treatment of your child at a particular school district, MOVE THEM!! Don’t just sit by while your child is abused/restrained 250 times and “document” it. No wonder America is going to hell in a hand basket!! Get a grip people!!

  • mitchell author

    Sounds like a typical case of parents more concerned with documenting a court case than with tending to the welfare and emotional well being of their own child.

  • Michelle

    A Bentonville school tried to send my daughter to that place as well when she was in kindergarten. We fought it, though they tried to insist that she absolutely must go there and that we had no choice. When we explained that it would be completely impossible because she didn’t qualify for medicaid and our private insurance would only cover a certain amount, leaving us with a monthly bill equal to well over half of our income, they backed off. The following year we transferred her to the Rogers school district where she has not only thrived, but has become one of the top students in her class. Shame on the Bentonville school district for trying to force kids out of their schools. I don’t know about Vista, but I will never allow my children back into a Bentonville school.

  • Joanna

    Mitchell author – Do you realize how difficult it is to get any kind of documentation from Vista or Bentonville? Do you understand that the parents probably had no idea how bad things were until the attorney got involved? Do you know what it’s like to be told by your child that “bad things” are happening at school but the school calls your child a liar? Do you really think that most working parents can just move to another district? Do you know how many parents can’t fight the system, or fear fighting it because jerks like you make comments about things you have never experienced?
    And really – it’s the PARENTS fault that the kid was abused?! Yeah, I bet he was asking for it, right?

    • mitchell author

      Joanna-please read the article again. It clearly states the mother documented 250 cases of abuse. Vista wouldn’t be documenting abuse if it was going on. Why would they? “Today we abused little Johnnie.” Really??!! A school year is approx. 180 days. That is more than one case of abuse per day. It doesn’t say anything about obtaining documentation from Vista or the school district. You are telling me then that you would let your child be abused that much before you stepped in? Did the mother not ask her child what they did at school that day? How did she not know the child was being taken out of the classroom? How could the child have been abused 250 times without the mother realizing it or reporting the behavior to authorities? And I am a working mother who works 50 or more hours a week and I have been at our school district more than once when I thought something was amiss with my child…not after 250 times. Wake up parents!! Get involved in what is going on with your children!! Ask questions!! Get answers!! It is your job as a parent!!

  • Tanya

    Dear 1st John, I want to start by applauding you for choosing a unique first name to support your comment (insert applause). Congratulations, your opinion caught my eye because you chose the name, John. I thought immediately, “Wow, this guy has named himself John, that’s original, his opinion matters to me now”. I can only hope a huge marketing firm read your comment and they now are recruiting you for future business ventures.
    I hope it’s okay, 1st John, that I give my opinion regarding this topic but I have chosen the name Tanya. Are you still reading 1st John? Great, my marketing classes from college are finally paying off. Saweeettttt. What I’ve gathered from your comment ( comment supported with the name “John”) is that you either 1) Work for Vista 2) Are related to someone who works for Vista 3) Work for Bentonville School district 4) Are related to someone who works for Bentonville School District (or) 5) You are possibly just an idiot. My opinion, 1st John, is you fall under 1), 2), 3) (or) 4), and for sure 5). Dear 1st John, if you have forgotten what 1), 2), 3), 4) (or) 5) means I can help you with this one. Your mouse has a left button that you push (with your finger) and it allows you to preview my comment.
    Now, allow me to educate you 1st John.Are you ready? I hope it’s okay I refer you to now as “idiot”. Sorry typing “1st John” is a little inconvienant now. You stated “I don’t know specifics of this case/siutation”, but yet it was very important for you to give your opinion in your attempted 13 paragraphs. (standard American English paragraphs should contain 6-11 sentences). Really? John, it was very obvious who you were representing. First of all, one sentence such as “I don’t buy it” followed by a period and a return key does not make your “I don’t buy it” sentence a paragraph. Same goes for your “I don’t buy this at all” sentence that you attempted to make a paragraph. Oh no, I’m not ranting about grammar and APA formatting (google it).
    Please know you have in no way angered or disturbed me. John, your breed actually amuse me and thank for the free entertainment. Dear John, you have no idea what you are talking about. Why did you make the comment pertaining to “soft restraints”? Really? We are talking about a child correct? Dear John, let’s discuss the next comment you made, ” I feel sorry for this poor child. It seems that the school district and state tax payers have already spent $100,000′s of taxpayer money on this family and now the child has been pulled away from the very help that he needs”. John, please don’t ever start a sentence with “It”. What is $100,000’s of taxpayers money? John, please say “one hundred thousands” out loud. John, were you implying taxpayers have spent one hundred thousands or hundreds of thousands? I apologize John for being confused but I usually read comments from educated people. I will bet the cost of one year’s writing and grammar tutoring to assist John, the school district nor the taxpayers have lost a dime pertaining to this case. I will bet my savings, if the school district had provided appropriate placement, LRE, FAPE, IEP, behavioral intervention, and appropriate resources before hand for this child, I wouldnt be wasting my time educating “John’ on the appropriate way to comment on a topic he/she has been puppeteered to engage in.
    No John, I do not know this family. Yes John, I have a child with Autism. Guess what John? My child has never ever had any behavioral issues or concerns while attending Bentonville Public Schools. No aggression. No restraint. No transport. Not a peep, slur, or unkind word or threat out of his/her mouth ever while attending Bentonville Public Schools. Guess what John, my child has never recieved a FAPE, LRE, appropriate IEP with realistic goals and objectives, appropriate placement, or an opportunity to learn with his/her non-disabled peers. FYi (for your information) John, hiring an attorney to fight for a child’s rights (a special needs child at that) is usually not derived from a parent “looking for a quick buck”. Hiring an attorney to fight for a special needs child is actaully defined as advocating.(Google it)

  • txkreddog

    On the surface it sounds like a typical “slip and fall ambulance chaser” lawyer throwing everything at a wall hoping something will stick. The parental responsibility, as others have pointed out, seems to have been completely ignored. Unless substantial facts are presented instead of innuendo, lies, and half-truths by the “mother” and her “attorney” this case should be thrown out, and the lawyer and plaintiff counter-sued for all costs and inconvenience.

  • Larry

    Seems the real issue is the failure of society to provide adequate care for those with mental issues. Frustration abounds at all levels, parents teachers, and caregivers alike. Just denying the problem will not solve it. Probably will require as much energy as has been put into healthcare to make a difference.

  • Heather Nichole Rice

    thats ok the bentonville schools did the sma thing with my daughter they took her out of school and put her in an ozark guidence school for kids just bc she wouldnt sit down in class and is not allowed to return to school since she has been in this other school since she was in kindergarden actually 2 weeks after kindergarden started i mean can these teachers not handle kids no more i mean she in first grade and they not even taught her how to start reading yet they restrain my daughter when she will not listen and put her in a padded room and everything what is this education system coming to its going alot like our country is and this is our kids future that we are talking about

  • noone

    I worked in a tdt before and could only stand being in that environment for a month there was nothing therapeutic or educations that occurred. I on many occasions had to use physical restraint on small children. When other alternatives were presented they we denied.p Horrible horrible place. Inmates don’t even get treated as bad as the kids at tdt.

  • Melissa

    First, I do not believe this is the place for sarcastic comments or grammar corrections. This is a serious topic about a child that some abusive things may or may not happened. The article states that the boy was taken out of the school several times during the school yr. 2012-2013 and placed in a day treatment program though Vista Health. It also states the child had been abused. How can a parent not know this was going on for so long? Personally, I believe if the school was having problems with this child the parents should have been notified immediately. There are many things that can be put in place through school with children with difficulties that does not involve a Mental health facility. Speaking from experience with my child, she was having problems and we filed a FINNS on her, she also went to Vista Health in Fayetteville. I have to admit Vista Health in Fayetteville were amazing. The staff the doctors, nurses, techs, therapist and administration all worked together to do what they could to help my daughter. Now she has been back in school and doing great. To this day she still tells me she doesnt miss being there but she does miss the staff. I would really like to hear the other side to this story. If this is happening within school, it should most defiantly be addressed. There are so many unanswered questions though. There has to be reasons why the boy was sent to TDT. How can a school just send a child to someplace like that and not notified the parent or getting the parent involved. How many times did he go to the day treatment program within in that yr. Why did the parents not know for so long. I for one meet with teachers often during the school yr. Did he have behavioral problems that were not address by the parent. I just think some of this is sketchy. I pray this child gets the help he needs and has better experiences though the school system.

  • Chastidy Laws

    Attached is a PDF doc containing information about a local advocacy practice, Exceptional Advocacy. I personally hire this advocate in assisting my child access appropriate school services. The practice is very professional and knowledgable. I wanted to share after reading some of the parent testimonies on the comment page. Intro to Exceptional Advocacy.pdf

  • Ashley

    Hey everyone I understand that this is America and we are all allowed to our own opinions but who are we to judge whether this happened or not we are not involved in this case nor will we every be so we can’t say that it did or didn’t happen and to down the mother for not taking immediate action is wrong in order to go to court over something like this you must have extensive evidence or it can be thrown out. Been there actually going through it now. Don’t judge someone for not taking immediate action the courts don’t work off of no or little evidence. Thank you have a nice day!

  • Kasey

    Having worked in both a day treatment and a public school as a special educator I can tell you that students must meet qualifications to be admitted to these facilities. Students were only restrained when they became violent. Due to the nature of the facility, many students had explosive outburst and could at times become violent. No parent has been forced to send their child to a facility by a school district. There are meetings that take place where a committee decides proper placement and the parent is part of that decision. If at any time the parent refuses, then another placement within the school district must be chosen. I’m not saying that this parent was or was not pleased with the care her child was provided in this facility, but she had control and could have withdrawn her child from the program at any time. The local public school could not refuse to admit the child into their system. The schools know all of this and I can assure you did not refuse to take this child back into their system.

  • Kasey

    In addition, Day Treatment requires an intake process. Students must have a mental health diagnosis to attend. It is a program not a place to be sent on and off. Treatment is paid for by either private insurance or Medicaid. To continue to receive treatment, a therapist and dr must have proof, or notes to send to ins or Medicaid to show a continued need or service. Sounds like this parent was not happy but really does not have a case against the school district. Once the student was admitted to the TDT, the school district had no involvement with the child’s treatment. TdT are part of a private mental health company, the are not affiliated with the school districts.

    • Another anonymous know-it-all

      The problem with this is that the school district is required by federal and state law to be involved with the child’s education. TDT is not a school, but a medical facility. The school district still receives state and federal funds for a child in TDT because the child’s education remains the responsibility of the school district. A school district is not allowed to delegate the education of its students to unaccredited schools or private mental health companies. Just as a parent is required by law to educate his children, a school district is required by law to oversee the education of the children living within its boundaries. If the school district truly had no involvement once the child was admitted to TDT, it has broken the law.

  • Another anonymous know-it-all

    Special education is the dark underbelly of Bentonville Public Schools. There’s no way to know from this story what actually happened, but there’s an awful lot of smoke for there to be no fire. Lawyers may be bottom-dwellers, but parents without lawyers are often powerless. There are so many misleading statements of fact above. Student must have a mental health diagnosis to attend. That is true. If the student does not have a mental health diagnosis when they are referred, they are provided with one. Technically, no parent has been forced to send their child to TDT – after all, parents must sign a form to allow the use of restraints and seclusion before TDT will accept the student. A school cannot force a parent to sign, but a school can threaten to homebound a disabled child or file a FINS petition or make a child abuse hotline referral. The school district has no interest in hurting children. But the school district has an interest in and history of getting certain children out of its hair. The school district has an interest in delegating the education of certain children to another facility without oversight. Saying that a school system cannot refuse to educate a child because of their disabilities because it’s against the law is like saying that racial discrimination can’t happen because of the fourteenth amendment. Of course this can happen! Instead of drawing conclusions based on personal bias and the scant information provided in the story, perhaps the discourse should move toward what SHOULD be done to educate these children with special needs.

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