BROWNSBURG, Ind. — A law firm representing the family of a 7-year-old special needs student who was told to eat his own vomit by school staff at Brown Elementary revealed that the student’s family wasn’t notified about the abuse until two months later when media reports shed light on the incident.
“The incident has shocked and appalled the family and the community, and we are doing everything we can to ensure justice is served and the victim is protected,” said Attorney Catherine Michael of Connell Michael Kerr LLP.
Michael said the family has only been provided limited information about the abuse but was shown a video that shows the child being provided a spoon by Debra Kanipe, a Life Skills instructional aide at Brown Elementary. In the video, both Kanipe and Sara Seymour, a Life Skills teacher, stand on each side of the student as the child is told to eat his own vomit off a lunch tray.
Both Kanipe and Seymour face a felony charge of neglect of a dependent.
The Brownsburg Police Department said that the lunchroom incident took place on Feb. 16 in the lunchroom at Brown Elementary, part of the Brownsburg Community School Corporation.
Five staffers in total face charges in regard to the incident. Brownsburg schools said the termination process has been initiated for all of the employees charged in the case.
While Seymour and Kanipe are accused of telling the student to eat his vomit and providing a spoon with which to do it, the other school staffers all reportedly witnessed the event and failed to report it.
Life Skills teacher Julie Taylor, 48; Life Skills instructional aide Kristen Mitchell, 38; and behavioral technician Megan King, 24; all are charged with failure to report, a Class B misdemeanor.
Family of the 7-year-old student — who is challenged by autism, memory and communication issues — didn’t learn about the abuse until April 17.
“Connell Michael Kerr, LLP, is committed to helping this family seeking justice to ensure that those responsible for this abuse, and those who knew about the abuse, are held accountable for their actions,” the law firm said in a statement.
Police reported that in the video Taylor can be seen placing a tray in front of the student before he projectile vomits onto it. Seymour is reportedly “smiling and laughing,” according to police, while Kanipe gives the student a spoon and scoops up some of the vomit. Police said the student takes three bites of the vomit, consuming it while crying.
Court documents detail that police spoke with all of the staffers involved with the incident. The staffers all admitted to witnessing or being near the incident and cast blame on each other, but police noted none of them reported the incident.
Most said it was Seymour who told the student that he would have to eat his vomit if he couldn’t keep his food down while another thought it was Kanipe.
Kanipe reportedly admitted to giving the student a spoon and watching as he ate his own vomit while crying, according to the court documents.
When police questioned Seymour, she told investigators that it was “policy” to encourage children to keep eating if they spit out their food, but not if it was vomit. She reportedly told the student if he spit out his food, he’d have to eat it.
Despite stating that the “policy” didn’t include vomit, Seymour agreed with investigators that the student vomited food onto his tray, not spit it up.
She also reportedly told police that it was Kanipe who scooped up the vomit with a spoon and gave it to the child.
When asked about “smiling and laughing” during the incident, Seymour reportedly told police that she reacts that way when nervous. The detective noted in his report that he did not see this “self-described stress behavior” during Seymour’s interview, however.
“We ask for privacy and respect for the family during this difficult time,” said the law firm representing the family of the student. “They wish to thank everyone for their support and concern.”