Dispatch, June 15, 1999

Agency finds some abuse at city school
By Bill Bush, Dispatch Staff Reporter

Children Services has turned over its notes in an investigation of Beatty Park school.

An investigation by Franklin County Children Services has substantiated some allegations of abuse at a Columbus elementary school for special-needs students, the agency said yesterday.

Ending its role in the investigation, Children Services has turned over to the Columbus Public Schools and the state Department of Education all the information it compiled during hundreds of hours of interviews regarding Beatty Park Elementary School. The East Side school for kindergartners through fifth-graders who have behavioral disorders was investigated after some students and their parents complained that teachers' aides hit, kicked and threw students who misbehaved.

The investigation, which began in February, eventually included 33 allegations of physical and emotional abuse and one claim of sexual abuse, said John Saros, director of Children Services.

"The one sexual-abuse allegation was unsubstantiated,'' he said.

Saros wouldn't say how many of the allegations were substantiated.

Children Services investigated jointly with the Columbus Division of Police, and "if there were any violation of criminal law, they would take that matter forward to the prosecutor's office,'' Saros said.

The Columbus Division of Police is still a couple of weeks away from deciding if evidence of criminal wrongdoing exists, juvenile detective Doug Espie said. The investigation took longer than expected because the number of allegations reported kept increasing. "We started out around 16, and we ended up talking to about 32- odd kids,'' Espie said.

Giselle Johnson, general counsel for the Columbus Public Schools, could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

A federal lawsuit demanding millions of dollars from Columbus Public Schools was filed in March on behalf of five former students who said they were physically abused at Beatty Park. The suit claims the students were deprived of their constitutional rights by aides -- hired by the district to help maintain discipline -- who used excessive force and threats of injury against them. It also claims students were confined for long periods without justification.

One aide, whom the school district never identified, was placed on paid leave early in the investigation. A teacher, Susan Verkest, was sent home twice from Beatty Park after administrators accused her of not following orders.

Verkest, too, filed a lawsuit against Columbus schools officials for allegedly retaliating against her for being a whistle-blower who helped launch the probe. That lawsuit seeks at least $125,000 and names as a defendant the former principal at Beatty Park, Fred Kouski, for taking no steps to investigate or respond to abuse allegedly witnessed by Verkest. Kouski left the school on medical leave soon after the investigation began and has since been replaced.

Verkest's lawsuit stated that when she reported to Children Services that she saw abuse by aides, the agency told her she could not report charges to it.

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