Hollis liable for student assault
CONCORD – A federal jury found for the family of an autistic boy who was assaulted by his special education aide, though it did not go as far as the the family wanted.
Jurors convened in the U.S. District Court in Concord returned a verdict Tuesday finding the Hollis School District liable for the battery of T.F., who was 9 when his special education aide, Lisa Keehan, was caught on video assaulting him during school hours. The family was awarded $285,000 in damages on that count.
The jury did not, however, find that the district had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Jon Meyer, the attorney for the Fortin family, said the ADA violation complaint came down to whether or not the jury believed that the district was discriminating against T.F. because of his disability. Meyer said the legal question on the ADA aspect of the lawsuit was fairly complex for the jury.
“It’s not your typical discrimination case,” Meyer said.
In May 2014, administrators decided to video record Keehan’s teaching sessions with T.F. out of concern that she was failing to file reports about her classes. In the first video taken, Keehan is seen pushing the then 9-year-old boy, grabbing him by the ear and forcing him into his seat.
T.F. is epileptic, on the autism spectrum and severely developmentally delayed. His doctor testified that the boy has a developmental age of a 2 or 3 year old.
T.F.’s parents, Michael and Ginger Fortin, sued the district claiming their son suffered years of abuse from Keehan that didn’t get detected by the district. They suspect Keehan used ear pulling as a regular punishment, and cite the fact that the boy complained about ear aches for years, and rarely got an ear infection diagnosis. They also claim T.F. regressed in terms of potty training when he started working with Keehan, who was the teacher responsible for getting him to the bathroom.
Keehan did not testify in the case. Jurors were tod that she suffers from a medical condition and is unable to testify. In disputed testimony from a deposition introduced in court, however, Keehan reportedly told Hollis administrators that she thought she could pull hair or ears to control children as a matter of district policy. Keehan also reportedly told administrators she took hands to T.F. just before the video was recorded.
Michael Fortin is thankful to the jury for its work, and he thanks Meyer for his efforts on the case.
“We’re very pleased with what the jury came up with,” Fortin said. “We’re trying to get some justice for (T.F.)”
Fortin said all of the proceeds from the lawsuit will go to supporting T.F. and helping him get past the trauma he suffered. The boy currently is enrolled in a school in Massachusetts that specializes in caring for and educating children on the autism spectrum.
“It’s a better place for him,” Fortin said.
Brian Cullen, the attorney for the Hollis School District, said the district is pleased the jury found that it did not discriminate against T.F., but it may appeal the battery verdict because of the damages.
“We will undoubtedly be looking more closely at the evidentiary support for that aspect of the verdict as we consider whether to bring any appeal,” Cullen said.