BOISE — The parents of an 8-year-old autistic girl who was arrested at her northern Idaho elementary school are suing the school district and the sheriff’s department in federal court, contending the agencies violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Spring Towry and Charles Towry, along with their daughter, Evelyn, filed the lawsuit Friday in Idaho’s U.S. District Court against the Lake Pend Oreille School District and the Bonner County Sheriff’s Department.
The family claims the district discriminated against Evelyn because of her disability, and that the school failed to make reasonable modifications so she could access to school services and facilities. They are asking for unspecified monetary damages.
“The school district denies any wrongdoing in this case and feels that in accordance with various precedents set forth in state and federal law, the school will ultimately be vindicated,” said Brian Julian, the attorney for the school district. The attorney representing the Bonner County sheriff’s department did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday.
The case arose Jan. 9, 2009, when the Kootenai Elementary School third-grader was arrested, handcuffed and taken to the county’s juvenile lockup on suspicion of battery. School staffers said Evelyn had spit on and inappropriately touched two instructors. The child was later released to her parents, and the prosecutor’s office dropped the charge against her.
After the incident, Charles Towry said his daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. He said that on the day of the altercation, she was wearing a hooded sweatshirt her mother had decorated with sewn-on ears to look like an animated cow character from the movie “Barnyard.” She wasn’t allowed into a school party because of the sweatshirt, although the lawsuit didn’t explain why.
Evelyn was placed in a separate classroom instead, Towry said, and when she tried to leave, staffers restrained her. Towry said that caused the girl to panic and react violently.
According to the lawsuit, Evelyn’s teacher, Louise Zumuda, and her principal, Betsy Walker, called police and asked to have her arrested and charged “because they felt they were not getting their point across” to the child and her parents after creating a plan to address behavioral issues. The Towrys say two deputies arrested, handcuffed and patted down Evelyn, refusing Spring Towry’s request that they release the child to her.
That caused the family severe emotional distress, the Towrys contend.