Calling the police was one of the remedies included in the educational and behavioral plan for an 8-year-old autistic girl who was arrested and handcuffed at her elementary school in Bonner County.
Evelyn Towry’s “individual education plan,” or IEP, included police intervention as a course of action if the child misbehaved, according to a federal lawsuit filed by her parents, Spring and Charles Towry.
It’s not unusual for such plans to include the possibility that police be called, and it’s generally a matter of district policy, said Jean Taylor, Idaho Department of Education special education coordinator.
“Those policies include all ages of children and are usually set to keep staff and students safe at school,” she said.
Towry’s parents, however, say they never approved the IEP, as required by Idaho and federal guidelines. They’re suing the Lake Pend Oreille School District, the Kootenai Elementary School employees who put the plan into action, and the Bonner County Sheriff’s Department over the January 2009 incident. The federal lawsuit claims the agencies violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested the girl when she acted out after she was told she couldn’t attend a party because she was wearing a sweatshirt a teacher deemed inappropriate. School staff said Evelyn spit on and “inappropriately touched” two instructors. The third-grader was arrested, handcuffed and taken to the county’s juvenile lockup on suspicion of battery but later was released to her parents. The prosecutor’s office dropped the charge against her.
According to the lawsuit, school Principal Betsy Walker and Evelyn’s teacher, Louise Zumuda, said they called police because they were trying to “get their point across to (the girl) and her parents.”
Individual education plans typically apply to children with disabilities and are updated annually. Evelyn Towry was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder in August 2008, and the plan in place when she was arrested was her first.
The plans usually are drawn up by consensus of parents and educators, Taylor said. The school district claims it followed appropriate guidelines in drafting the plan.
The Towrys, however, say in their suit that the plan was developed without their knowledge. Spring Towry told a television station that she never saw the document.
The couple contends that they were asked to meet with the principal and teacher about the plan but were given short notice of the meeting and couldn’t attend. They blame school employees for not rescheduling.
Federal law dictates that a child’s parent or guardian must be given a copy of an educational plan. If they disagree with any part of it, they have up to 10 days to submit their objections in writing, Taylor said.
It’s not uncommon for police to intervene, said Brian Julian, attorney for the Lake Pend Oreille district.
“I have been involved with a number of cases similar to this,” he said.
In one of those cases, an elementary student in Nampa, Idaho, was hogtied by a deputy.
A judge later determined the deputy used excessive force, although no one was held liable or convicted of having violated the child’s civil rights.
A spokesman for the educational service district that supports northeastern Washington schools said it’s rare to include police intervention in an IEP for elementary children, but it does happen.
Kammi Smith, an attorney for the Towrys, said Evelyn no longer attends Kootenai Elementary School, but her family still lives in the Sandpoint area.