Vermont school, educators sued over treatment of boy with autism


BENNINGTON, Vt. -- A lawsuit has been filed against the Bennington School District over an incident last year when an audio recording revealed an 8-year-old boy with autism was called "a dumbass kid with autism," secluded in a room at school, and told to clean his urine from the floor, allegedly by school employees.

The suit names Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, Bennington School District, former special education director Kathy Buck, and para-educators Clayton Buck and Laurie Connell as defendants. Clayton Buck is Kathy Buck's son.

Suing them is Joan Reilly, mother of Nathan Reilly, now 10, who was a student at Bennington Elementary School during the 2012-2013 school year. The suit was filed on their behalf by Bennington-based Winburn Law Offices in Vermont Superior Court Bennington Civil Unit.

Kathy Buck announced her retirement in June 2013. Clayton Buck and Connell are not listed as employees on the SVSU's website.

According to the complaint, Clayton Buck and Laurie Connell worked as para-educators providing services and supervision to Nathan Reilly. Nathan has received special education since he was 3 and was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2007.

The complaint alleges that Nathan began to display behavioral problems during the 2012-13 school year and claims the treatment he received from para-educators Buck and Connell created the problems and caused them to get worse.

The suit says para-educators Buck and Connell made derogatory comments toward Nathan, deprived of bathroom breaks, left him unattended, and manhandled him.

The complaint, filed in April by attorney Patrick Winburn, claims negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Clayton Buck and Connell. It also claims the school system and Kathy Buck are responsible because they hired Clayton Buck and Connell and were in charge of supervising the para-educators.

Per the lawsuit, their actions caused lasting harm to Nathan. As is common in Vermont civil cases, no specific damage amount was requested.

On June 23, attorney John H. Klesch, of the Burlington firm Stitzel, Page & Fletcher P.C. filed a response, denying allegations of wrongdoing on behalf of all the defendants.

The matter was brought to public attention by Jean Pinsonneault, Nathan Reilly's aunt, in March 2013. She told the Bennington Banner she noticed her nephew was not having the same problems at home that he was at school. So, on Feb. 13, 2013, she sent him to school with an audio recorder hidden in his backpack.

The nine-hour recording indicated Nathan was left alone for long periods of time.

At one point, Reilly asks for lunch. A voice identified by Nathan's family as Connell says to a voice identified by the family as Clayton Buck: "I already know at least 10 days that kid can go without food before it actually starts affecting his body."

"Yeah," replies the voice the family has identified as Clayton Buck.

"Three days without fluids. I don't think three hours is going to do it," responded the voice identified as Connell's.

On the recording, a person can be heard saying to the voice attributed to Clayton Buck that Nathan Reilly is smarter than he "pretends" to be.

The voice attributed to Buck responds, "I think he's a little dumbass with autism and he doesn't have a clue about anything in the world [and he can't] make connections with anything."

The recording also indicates that Reilly was left alone after urinating on the floor and was told to clean it up himself.

News of the incidents on the recording sparked outrage in the community as well as an investigation by Vermont State Police and school officials. No criminal charges were ever filed.

According to a source familiar with the matter, the school board decided to terminate the contract of Kathy Houran, a special education supervisor, and not renew Clayton Buck's contract. Connell was transferred to a different building after being put on leave.

Pinsonneault told the Banner last year that her nephew was attending a different school and was doing better.


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