The school system is set to pay $80,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that a teacher restrained a special needs kindergarten student to a chair during nap time in 2016.
In court filings from Aug. 17, 2018, Heather Duckworth alleged that her nonverbal child, who has Angelman syndrome, was restrained to a chair while other children were allowed to move about freely, or lay on mats at North Liberty School.
The lawsuit named Burke County Public Schools, Burke County Board of Education and the teacher involved in the incident, Linda Lindsay, as defendants.
Attorneys representing both Duckworth and the school system appeared in court Tuesday to finalize a settlement that would see a total of $80,000 paid out by the school system. The settlement saw $44,000 going for the child’s benefit, and $36,000 going for Duckworth’s individual claims.
From the $44,000 for the child’s benefit, $14,666.66 was set to pay attorneys’ fees, $7,636.72 was set for half the litigation expenses and $18,696.62 was to be put into a special needs trust for the child. The remaining $3,000 will pay the company administering the trust.
From the $36,000 for Duckworth’s individual claims, $12,000 was set to pay attorneys’ fees, $7,636.72 was set to cover remaining litigation fees and the remaining $16,363.28 was set to be paid to Duckworth.
Still, the school system denies that the child was improperly restrained and disputes that the child suffered from its use of a “positional chair.”
Larry Serbin, the attorney who represented Duckworth, said the school system did stop the use of the chairs on its properties.
The News Herald reached out to BCPS to verify if use of the positional chairs in schools has been discontinued, but did not receive a response by press time Tuesday.
Serbin said that he believed the lawsuit saw justice served.
“I believe the families ... they would say no amount of money would undo what happened, but they’re satisfied and looking forward to just moving on,” Serbin said.
Duckworth spoke to reporters after court and made it clear that the lawsuit wasn’t about the money, but rather holding the school system accountable.
“This has never been about the money, ever,” she said. “It’s what you did to my child.”
She said students with special needs deserve to be treated with the same respect as typical students.
“These children, they deserve to be treated just like your typical children,” Duckworth said. “Anything they can do or say can never take back the fact of what they’ve done to her.”
Lindsay still was employed with the school system in December, but had taken a new role as a teacher’s assistant at Mountain View Elementary School, according to information obtained by The News Herald in December.
She was suspended with pay for nearly three months while the school system investigated the allegations of wrongdoing, but BCPS said no evidence of misconduct or negligence were found.