ROXBURY, NJ - The parents of a 6-year-old special needs student who, according to authorities, was hung upside down and shaken by a frustrated teacher's aide in March, filed a notice of tort claim today, the first volley of a forthcoming lawsuit.
The notice says the Landing couple intend to sue the aide, the Roxbury school board, a number of school administrators and personnel, a Morris County Prosecutor's Office detective and possibly others.
The notice was filed by Warren lawyer Julie Warshaw on behalf of Kimberly and William Yamashita. The Yamashita's son, Colton, was held upside down and shaken by former Kennedy Elementary School teacher's aide Shannon Rooney on March 23 after he began misbehaving in class, according to a report filed by Roxbury police. The Yamashitas contend Rooney then dropped the kindergartner onto his head.
When Roxbury police advised the Morris County Prosecutor's Office about the incident they were told by a detective there - Craig May - that the aide's actions did not rise to the level of criminal behavior, so no charges were filed against Rooney, according to the police report. The prosecutor's office, pressed by the Yamashitas, subsequently said it would take another look at the matter, but no charges have been announced.
The notice of claim names Rooney, the state Department of Education, the Roxbury School Board, Roxbury Schools Superintendent Loretta Radulic, Roxbury Schools Assistant Superintendent Charles Seipp, Kennedy Elementary School Principal Eric Renfors, school counselor/anti-bullying specialist Gina LaCapra, district human resources director Maryann Gibbs and two Kennedy teachers' aides who witnessed the incident.
It also names May, the county detective.
Rooney, Radulic and Roxbury School Board President Leo Coakley did not immediately respond Friday to messages seeking comment. The prosecutor's office, citing an "active investigation," declined commenting.
Threats on the school bus
Yamashita, who initially said she and her husband didn't intend to file a lawsuit, said their minds changed due to what she feels has been a lack of action and continued problems with the special needs program in Roxbury. She contends aides working with special needs students are not adequately trained.
"Nothing has been done," she said today. "As of today, it's been eight weeks and nothing has been done to protect my son. I got him into a new class. I'm trying to do everything I can. And yet my son keeps having issues."
Colton is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyspraxia and hypertonia, according to Yamashita. She said her son's school experience improved after Rooney was let go in March, but deteriorated after a TV station followed up on a TAPinto Roxbury article and broadcast a story about the matter.
"Everything was fine until the News 12 thing came out," she said. "Then I started getting emails from his teacher about his behavior. She's saying he is using profanity. That's because he's hearing ridiculous things, words he's never heard before, on the school bus."
Yamashita contended her son was recently threatened by another child on the bus. "The kid called him an effing stupid asshole ... and threatened to choke him to death" she said. "Then, as I was getting Colton off the bus, the little kid gave me the finger."
Yamashita, who said she reported the incident to the school district, said the special education student bus is driven by an older man and there are no special education aides on board. "These kids cannot be left to their own devices," she asserted.
The notice of claim asserts Colton was the victim of a a lackadaisical attitude toward special needs students in Roxbury, passivity, it contends, continues.
"Since the date of this incident (Yamashita) requested on several occasions for the school to conduct a harassment, intimidation and bullying investigation," says the document. "The district ignored these requests and on their own, failed to initiate an HIB investigation. Recently, Ms. Gibbs claimed that K.Y. (Yamashita) never requested such an investigation and then, when they finally conducted said investigation, they failed to find HIB had occurred."
The notice said the Yamashitas will argue in the lawsuit the existence of "negligence, gross negligence and deliberate indifference of the defendants in the supervision of their staff" and will attempt to show "there was foreseeable harm" to Colton that could have been avoided.