Crime & Courts

Nov 2, 2011 9:00 PM by Erin Schermele (Great Falls)

Suit filed over alleged abuse at North Middle School

The alleged abuse of students at North Middle School in Great Falls several years ago has sparked a new civil complaint from several outraged parents.

The case first came to light when criminal charges were filed against two former staff members who were accused of abusing an autistic student.

The 2009 court case involved just one student, Garrett Schilling, but parents of other students who were in Schilling's class expressed their frustrations outside the courtroom.

At the time, three parents told us they'd also filed reports with police, claiming that their children were also abused.

Nothing came of those reports and the criminal charges against Julie Ann Parish and Kristina Kallies were eventually deferred.

But the parents are now taking their case to court; the new complaint alleges that the Great Falls Public School district knew about the abuse for more than a year before they took action.

The court documents list a series of complaints reported to the principal starting in February of 2008.

At that time, parents reported that their kids had suffered scratches and a burn; in the Spring of 2008, witnesses reported that the para-professionals were verbally abusive toward the students.

In the Fall of 2008, substitute para-professionals claimed a child's head was forcefully put under running water; and in February of 2009 a teacher's aide reported that children were punished by being put in a closet and forced to eat food with vomit on it.

The seven families listed in the latest suit say these example show that the Great Falls public schools breached their duty to properly care for the students, investigate complaints, and take action to ensure student safety.

The plaintiff's attorney, Clifford Edwards, told us, "What we find most appalling, it's just unbelievable that they were subjected to conditions of having to sit in their own feces and be at their table with their own vomit, something needs to be done to make sure that doesn't ever happen again."

After the Great Falls school officials confirmed inappropriate behavior by the staff involved, all four individuals resigned.

GFPS Superintendent Cheryl Crawley said, "At this point all I can say is we're reading through the allegations, that we are aware of the complaints and we're just beginning to respond to the fact that they are asking for a great number of documents."

A trial date has not yet been set for this civil matter.