Oct. 22, 2009 -- Two teacher's aides face felony charges stemming from allegations that they abused special needs students in their Montana middle school classroom.
Julie Ann Parish and Kristina Marie Kallies are each charged with one felony count of assault on a minor and one misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of children after the Great Falls Police Department investigated the alleged December abuse of student Garrett Schilling, then 13.
The aides are accused of holding Schilling's head under running water after he fell asleep in class, forcing him to sit in his soiled pants for hours and making him eat his own vomit when he got sick at Great Falls' North Middle School.
Schilling's mother, Tifonie Schilling, said her son, now 14, has Fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder that leaves him with limited means of communication and results in his showing symptoms often associated with autism.
Because of this, Schilling said, her son was never able to tell her about the brutal treatment he was allegedly receiving at the hands of his own teacher's aides, which they have denied.
"If the teachers thought Garrett was being lazy or falling asleep at his desk, they forcibly took my son to the kitchen sink in the room and forced his head under the water while he was screaming for his mother," Schilling said of the alleged incidents. "And if he had an accident in his pants he was made to sit in it all day. They would taunt him and say, 'You stink like a baby.'
"They were waterboarding my son," Schilling said, adding that she learned of the alleged abuse in April 2008, when a teacher's aide with whom she was friendly sent her an e-mail warning her of Garrett's teacher's aides.
Aides Have Denied the Charges
"Garrett doesn't have the verbal skills to tell me what's happening," Schilling said. "He can tell me if he wants a drink or an apple, but he can't have a back and forth conversation with me. I can never just ask him how his day at school was."
Parish appeared in Cascade County District Court Monday and was released on $5,000 bail. Kallies is returning from Texas to face charges. Neither Parish or Kallies have entered formal pleas.
A lawyer for Kallies has not yet been identified, but Daniel Donavan, the attorney representing Parish, declined to comment on the allegations.
Parish and Kallies are no longer teaching in the district schools, according to local media reports.
But, according to court documents, Parish and Kallies both denied abusing Garrett, who attended the school from the fall of 2008 until April 2009, when his mother pulled him out.
Parish said that while she would "occasionally splash water in [Garrett's] face to wake him up," she "normally used a wet washcloth," according to the court documents.
She added that she felt they cleaned Garrett up "appropriately" and never let him remain in his soiled pants for more than a short time, sometimes until the next restroom break.
Kallies, according to the court documents, did admit to pouring water over the back of Garrett's head but said she used her "cupped hands as a cup" and never "held his head under the faucet."
But substitute teachers, as well as the teacher's aide who first informed Schilling that she suspecting something was going on in her son's classroom, said in the court documents that they'd witnessed firsthand the alleged abuse.
Maria Bubb, a substitute teacher in Garrett's classroom in October and November of 2008, said in the court documents that the staff was "mean and degrading" to Garrett, and that Kallies would "point her finger in his face and scream at him."
Other teachers testified that they saw Garrett's head held under running water and witnessed him being forced to sit in his feces for hours, not just a few minutes, as the teacher's aides suggest.
Other Families Come Forward
Randy Tarum, the attorney representing the Schillings, said that since news of the charges against Parish and Kallies were made public, several other families in the school district who have children with special needs have come forward with claims of alleged abuse, some against the same two teacher's aides.
"I have about 14 other families who have kids who have been subjected, in one way or another, to different schools in the district," Tarum said of the allegations. "The abuse comes in varying degrees, and not every child says they were tortured."
Tarum said that one family said their child was slapped or that behavior devices such as restraints were often misused in special education classrooms. One mother said that she noticed that her daughter, who has cerebral palsy, was missing chunks of hair on her head, a result of what she believes was the punishment of getting dragged across the floor, Tarum said, declining to say if the charged teacher's aides were involved in either of these alleged incidents.
So far, Tarum said, he has not received any feedback from the school district. Repeated calls and messages left for the school district's attorney, Jean Faure, were not immediately returned.
Tarum said that while the criminal case brought forth by the state is proceeding, he is working to change the way the school system treats special education students before filing a lawsuit on behalf of his clients.
"We're trying to work with the school district," Tarum said. "We're asking them to identify the children that may have been in contact with these teachers."
Tarum has also requested that school district officials bring in outside experts to counsel them on how they can improve the district's special education program.
"A lawsuit is not a great fix for the system, and we're trying to fix the system," Tarum said.
As for Garrett, his mother said that while he has since been re-enrolled in a different special education program at an area high school, he is still suffering from the alleged abuse he endured at North Middle School.
"Garrett lives in a world of fear," she said. "He doesn't understand that when we take him to new places, people won't abuse him.
"He's a great kid. He loves to swing outside and play with his toys with his brother," she said. "He's a really wonderful, outgoing kid and it's just been devastating to see what's happening to him."
Schilling said she is worried that Garrett's younger brother, Brandon, who also has Fragile X syndrome, could go through a similar experience if the school system is not improved.
"I trusted those teachers, I never in a million years thought this would happen," Schilling said of the allegations. "If I don't change things now this could all happen to Brandon, too."