Parents Consider Legal Action After Autistic Girl, 8, Arrested at School

The mother of an 8-year-old autistic girl who was arrested after a scuffle with her teachers said it was horrifying to watch her daughter be led away in handcuffs from her northern Idaho elementary school.

Police in Bonner County, Idaho, charged the girl, Evelyn Towry, with battery after the arrest Friday at Kootenai Elementary School.

Even though prosecutors dismissed the case Tuesday, the family is considering legal action against the school. They say their daughter was physically restrained to the point of causing bruises and is now tormented by memories of the incident.

Spring Towry said she got to the school Friday just in time to see 54-pound Evelyn -- who was diagnosed at age 5 with Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism -- being walked to a police car with two officers at her side.

"She started screaming 'Mommy, I don't want to go! What are batteries? What are batteries?'" Towry said. "She didn't even know what she was arrested for."

Towry, who lives in Ponderay, said Evelyn told her that she had been refused entry into a school Christmas party that had been delayed until after the holidays because of a string of snow days, because she refused to take off her beloved "cow costume" -- a hoodie with cow ears and a tail.

Towry said Evelyn, who loves Spongebob Squarepants, told her she was put in a separate classroom away from the party, but when she tried to leave, the teachers told her to stay put. Evelyn did not listen, Towry said, and the adults physically restrained her.

"She reacted in a violent way to the physical restraint," Towry said.

Towry said her daughter demonstrated for her how she was held down by her arms and legs. And Towry videotaped the thumb-sized bruises she says were left on Evelyn's legs from the incident.

"She said 'I was very scared,'" Towry said. "She told me she was being hurt."

Dick Cvitanich, superintendent of the Lake Pend Oreille School District, which includes the school where Evelyn was a student, said the school called police because "there was escalating behavior that resulted in what we perceived to be an assault on staff."

At a hearing on the case Tuesday, the prosecutor "said that he didin't think at this time it would be beneficial to pursue it becauase of her age and, of course, her condition," Towry said.

Evelyn was at court for the hearing, but "she didn't exactly know what was going on," Towry said.

Cvitanich said Evelyn's outburst Friday was the culmination of a series of incidents "that demanded staff intervention."

"It's definitely not typical," he said of the decision to call police on a child as young as Evelyn, "and not something we particularly want to do or like to do."

Inappropriate Reaction From School Officials?

The school's response to Evelyn's outburst and the string of events that led to it were completely inappropriate, says Dr. Pauline Filipek, associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, and pediatric nurse practitioner Teri Book, who share a practice specializing in pediatric neurology.

Book, the mother of a 17-year-old daughter with Asperger's, said children with high-functioning autism create the illusion that they are capable of communicating in the same way as children who do not have developmental disabilities.

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