A Parker County couple filed a federal lawsuit against Peaster ISD last week, alleging elementary school staff “violently” washed their 8-year-old son, calling him dirty and causing him physical, mental and emotional injury.
However, the district superintendent Matt Adams said the district looked into the family’s allegation last year and found nothing to indicate the child had been bathed.
Michael and Amber Tilley are seeking at least $75,000 from the district and the elementary school counselor Julie West and nurse Debbie Vanrite for alleged civil rights violations and retaliation against the third grader.
“Over the course of several years, various disputes [have] arisen by the parties, primarily concerning Mr. and Mrs. Tilley requesting appropriate educational services for their oldest son, [the 8-year-old’s brother],” the petition, filed in Fort Worth Thursday, states. “However, as a result of the historically contentious relationship [between] the plaintiff’s family and the school district, on numerous occasions employees of Peaster ISD have retaliated against the Tilley children, and further harassed the children.”
On Nov. 15, the 8-year-old was “berated and harassed” by employees of the district, including West, who allegedly told the child he smelled bad, was dirty and had bad hygiene and took him to the school nurse’s office.
In front of another student, West and Vanrite reportedly told him to undress and take a shower.
When the boy objected to completely disrobing and taking a shower, the two forced him to remove his clothing and began “violently washing his body with a washcloth, scrubbing him over a large portion of his body, stuck cotton balls in his ears, all while ridiculing and harassing him about being ‘dirty,’” the Tilleys allege.
“‘If you ever come to the school dirty again, we will strip you buck naked and throw you in the shower and scrub you down,’” the complaint states the teacher and nurse told the child after forcing him to apply deodorant.
The boy was told that he and his backpack would be sprayed every morning so he didn’t smell, the complaint states.
The boy was visibly and severely distraught that evening, and the boy’s father filed a police report for assault the following day, according to the complaint.
“Beginning shortly afterwards, employees of Peaster began retaliating against [the boy] as a result of his complaints and the lawful filing of the police report,” the Tilley’s allege. “[The child] would be excluded from events and activities that all other students were allowed to participate in.”
The boy is now in therapy and is exhibiting “OCD-type behaviors,” such as taking numerous baths a day, constantly cleaning his ears and spraying himself with large amounts of cologne, his parents state, adding that he is traumatized by attending school and has developed a fear of physically getting too close to people for fear they will say he is dirty or smells.
“I have nothing to substantiate those allegations,” Adams said of the complaint filed last week.
Children are not typically bathed by school staff, according to Adams, who said he thought it would have to be an extreme situation for a child to be bathed at school.
Normally, the district makes parents aware of hygiene issues, Adams said.
According to the Parker County Sheriff’s Office, who conducted an investigation in November, the nurse and teacher gave written statements to investigators that one spoke with the child about his hygiene because he was dirty and one of them cleaned behind and inside his ears and his neck area.
They also told investigators that the boy was told he could use the shower at school if needed, according to the sheriff’s office.
He was also given deodorant and they left the room and closed the door so he could put it on in private, according to the sheriff’s office. The boy reportedly told investigators he was never given a shower.
Stories from seven different school employees were consistent and Child Protective Services looked into the incident, as well, the sheriff’s office reported.
Investigators found the report to be unfounded and that no offense occurred.
Michael Tilley told the Democrat that he continues to take his son to a therapist once a month.
“He worries about things kids don’t normally think about,” Tilley said, adding that his son worries about his hair or if his shoes are getting old and the shoe strings are broken.
His son was not dirty and showers daily, according to Tilley.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Tilley said. “If my son was dirty, they should have called me.”
The school never sent a note, called or otherwise indicated to the boy’s parents there was an issue with their son’s hygiene, he said.
He hopes West and Vanrite have their licenses taken away and are never allowed to work in a school again, Tilley said.
“They should have called somebody,” Tilley said. “That’s the bottom line. They should have called somebody in that situation. I’m pretty sure they are supposed to contact a parent.”
Vanrite declined to comment and a message left for West was not returned Monday.
Copies of the filing are attached to this story, but the lawsuit in its entirety can be found here.