Courtesy of JCPS

A Louisville mother alleges in a lawsuit that JCPS Head Start staff pushed her 3-year-old special needs son by the head and grabbed his arm when he would not go to the playground as instructed.

The suit is the first filed against Jefferson County Public Schools’ troubled — and now defunct — Head Start program, according to a spokeswoman for the attorneys who filed the suit.

The district recently disbanded the program, giving up a $15 million federal grant, after federal authorities said that despite months of scrutiny the district had failed to prevent abuse and neglect of its students.

The mother, Esther Baldeon, is seeking unspecified damages in a lawsuit she filed against the Jefferson County Board of Education, Tully Elementary School teacher Sarah Mattson and two Tully teaching assistants who were identified only by last names.

In the suit, filed in Jefferson District Court, Baldeon asserts that on or about Nov. 28, a teacher assistant, Simpson, pushed Baldeon’s son, A.H., “by the head repeatedly to have him go from the back of the school to the playground, contrary to special instructions on how to communicate to A.H. if he would not move.”

The suit alleges another teaching assistant, Tyson, “then grabbed (A.H.) by the arm to force him to the playground.”

According to the suit, the boy was nonverbal at the time, with a diagnosis of sensory disorder, which describes a condition in which the brain struggles to receive and respond to information provided by the body’s senses.

The suit asserts that the acts of the assistants “were battery and abuse,” and that the defendants “were negligent in creating an unsafe learning environment and negligent in causing injury and or treatment by his therapist related to the battery.”

The suit also states that Baldeon removed her son from the school and placed him in a private church school, “incurring her an enrollment fee and tuition cost causing her to incur damages.”

A JCPS spokeswoman told Insider via email that the district does not comment on pending litigation. She could not immediately answer questions about whether the district conducted an internal investigation, took any corrective action, reprimanded staff or forwarded information to government agencies. She said Mattson still works for the school,  as does a staffer whose last name is Tyson, but the school employed no one whose last name is Simpson.

The teachers union also said that it does not comment on pending litigation. Mattson could not be reached immediately.

Honi Goldman, of HMG Media Relations, who handles PR for attorney Teddy B. Gordon, who filed the suit with Andrew E. Mize and Peter J. Jannace, told Insider that the school did not conduct an internal investigation and that the suit was the first against the district’s troubled Head Start program.

Parents last month sued JCBE, asserting that their child was in an abusive learning environment in an early childhood program at Stopher Elementary School, but that school does not have a Head Start program.

Federal scrutiny

The Administration of Family and Children, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and administers the Office of Head Start, had issued a report last year that uncovered within JCPS’ early childhood education program a culture of child abuse and neglect.

The report had listed 13 incidents of abuse in just over seven months beginning around Halloween 2016, two incidents in which young children were left unsupervised and seven incidents in which the district failed to notify authorities on a timely basis.

Seven of the initial 13 incidents involved teachers. One of them occurred at Tully Elementary School: On Dec. 12, 2016, when a 3-year-old refused a teacher’s instruction to stop pouring his milk out of the carton onto his fruit and threw milk and fruit onto the table, “the teacher scooped the items off the table, put them back onto the child’s tray, wrapped the child between her arms and legs and forced him to eat the items,” the ACF report read.

The teacher is not identified in the report, and while JCPS said that it has fired teachers/staffers related to some of the incidents, while some others have resigned, the district has declined to provide names of those it has fired and who have left. While Insider has obtained hundreds of pages of emails sent and received by local early childhood education officials that reference resignations, transfers and firings, the information is not specific enough to connect the disciplinary actions taken by the district with incidents listed in the ACF reports.

An updated ACF report, released in May, does not mention the incident referenced by the lawsuit. The incidents in the ACF reports are self-reported by district personnel, indicating that no JCPS staffer reported the incident that is referenced in the lawsuit.

The nation’s top child well-being official had said last October that the incidents of abuse of young children in JCPS made her sick to her stomach and were so frequent and severe that she threatened an emergency suspension of the local Head Start program.

Meanwhile, Baldeon, who owns a tax service business, referred questions to her lawyers, but told Insider that since she has removed her son from Tully Elementary, he has been doing much better.

A.H. used to be nonverbal, but now is speaking, she said.

“He is doing great in school,” Baldeon said.

UPDATED: This story has been updated with additional information from JCPS.

Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.


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