Mother of autistic student sues Oklahoma district for negligence in wake of physical assault incident

The mother of an autistic student has filed a lawsuit against her son’s Oklahoma school district after an alleged assault from another student.

Adrianne Johnson filed suit on Nov. 9 against Norman Public Schools alleging negligence on the part of the district. She claims her 11-year-old son with autism shouldn’t have been placed in the classroom where the alleged assault took place.

The petition in Cleveland County District Court claims the boy had been subjected to bullying before the alleged assault.

The suit claims the boy was placed in an Alcott Middle School classroom with older students on Jan. 11, arguing that, given the boy’s classification of having a disability under the Disability Education Act, his presence in the classroom went against the boy’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The petition says the boy’s conditions include heart problems, blindness in one eye, autism and “the cognitive abilities of a seven or eight year old.” The suit also says he has “difficulty processing sensory information such as noise …”

“His IEP also clearly states that he is not to be in the general-ed classrooms – that he’s supposed to stay in his special-ed classroom, where he has those supports,” Johnson told a Norman TV station.

The boy allegedly shouted and threw a book in response to the older students’ making too much noise for him. A student then allegedly physically assaulted the boy and called him a racial slur. A student’s video of the incident went viral on social media.

The lawsuit claims the district “knew or should have known” the boy’s placement in the room would heighten a risk of the boy being bullied.

Johnson is asking for $75,000 in damages for emotional distress and physical pain. Court documents claim the boy had trouble sleeping after the incidents and demonstrated “unusual behaviors, such as cutting off his hair.” Johnson says her son is afraid of returning to school. 

“Parents place their trust in schools to provide their children with a safe environment in which they can learn and grow,” Johnson’s attorneys argue. “For parents of children who struggle with disabilities, this is an especially difficult choice to make, specifically because of the fear that their children will encounter situations exactly like those (the boy) has been faced with, without receiving reasonably adequate support and protection.”