By Mindy Ragan Wood
PIEDMONT – Piedmont’s Board of Education has adopted a new policy about student abuse just as the district faces a lawsuit that alleges officials waited too long to report an incident involving a special education teacher.
Last Monday, school board members approved a policy that requires school staff to immediately report suspected abuse to law enforcement.
The policy changed existing language to comply with a state law passed this year. Dell Kerbs (R-Shawnee) authored a bill that changed the wording of Oklahoma’s abuse reporting law to require citizens to report suspected child abuse “immediately” rather than “promptly.”
The policy was included in several suggested new policies and policy changes which school districts receive quarterly from the Oklahoma State School Board Association (OSSBA).
Russell and Carol Nation have accused former Piedmont Middle School special education instructor Holly Morris of physically and mentally abusing their son earlier this year.
Canadian County prosecutors charged Morris in May with causing a minor to be deprived, which carries a longer jail sentence than assault. The Nations filed a related lawsuit Oct. 15 in Canadian County District Court.
The lawsuit claims the district was “repeatedly warned” of the physical and mental abuse being inflicted on students in Morris’ class and “failed to take proper action.”
At the time when Morris was suspended from her duties in January, Piedmont Police Chief Scott Singer told Yukon Progress “the school notified us that they had complaints from several sources within the school” concerning the special education teacher.
It remains unclear how much time passed between the time school officials became aware of the accusations and when the allegations were reported to police in January.
It is clear the school investigated those claims.
“As a result of those preliminary investigations by the school,” Singer said in January, “it raised the issue whether or not the police department should conduct an investigation.”
A parent with a special needs child told the Piedmont-Surrey Gazette it wasn’t the first time Morris had been accused of abusing a student.
“This behavior was brought to the district’s attention before and it was shoved under the rug,” the parent said. The parents requested their names be withheld for fear of retaliation against their child by teachers or administrators.
The lawsuit may be moved to federal court. Last month, attorneys for the school district requested the case be heard in federal court because the lawsuit accuses the district of two civil rights violations.
The lawsuit claims that the Nation’s son was denied due process and equal protections rights under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Nation’s attorney, Don Herring, claims the student was denied due process and equal protections under the law because the district failed to protect the child after it was made aware of abuse allegations.
The lawsuit accused the district of violating Title IX of the Educational Amendment of 1972.
The Act forbids discrimination on the basis of gender in any federally funded program or activity.
Morris was accused of making derogatory comments about the student’s genitalia and punched him in the groin.