Story Published: Oct 19, 2009 at 12:29 PM MDT
Story Updated: Oct 19, 2009 at 10:38 PM MDT
Five Great Falls families say they're worst nightmare has come true. They believe their special needs children suffering from autism, cerebral palsy and down syndrome were abused while in school and their conditions prevented them from speaking out. Two teachers aides are now facing felony charges accused of severely abusing the children.
Last year Julie Parish and Kristina Marie Kallies were a teacher's aides in the special needs 7th and 8th grade classroom at North Middle School. Now both face charges of assault on a minor and endangering the welfare of children. There's a warrant out for Kallies arrest but so far police haven't been able to find her. Parish was arrested this weekend and in court this afternoon (10/19).
Parents of the children say today's charges are just the beginning of the story.
"We trusted these people,” said a tearful Tiffonie Schilling, mother of 14-year Garret Schilling who suffers from autism.
Her son is the victim named in court papers charging the two teachers aides.
"He was having water boarding like torture done to him on a frequent basis,” Schilling said.
According to witness accounts during the last school year Garrett was subjected to much more than water torture. Another student says he saw, "the teachers make G.S. [Garrett] eat his own vomit" while a substitute teacher claims Garrett was "left sitting in his own feces for approximately half a day." Garrett is non-verbal, so his mom can't ask him about the allegations.
"A child who can’t defend himself, it’s a huge violation,” she said.
Schilling says the experience is her worst nightmare come to life.
“It’s very hard to think about,” she said.
Today Julie Parish was in Cascade County Court facing felony child abuse charges. The courtroom was full of parents who say their children were also abused.
“I am more than sure he was locked in a closet,” says Trinette Pepos about her son.
Mark and Rikki Saali say their daughter was, “hit with pens…she had a welt on her neck from that and she also told us she got hit with a pan in the head.”
Molly Gillis says her daughter, “came home on numerous occasions with bruises, bit marks, burnt fingertips, missing hair.“
So far five families are pursuing charges but 12 students were in class.
“There’s probably more out there and all of the kids need counseling- every last one of them,” said Mark Saali.
The school district says the women resigned after the charges were made and they are cooperating fully with the police investigation.
Tom Moore, Assistant Superintendent of the Great Falls School District says, “The district is saddened by this. We don’t condone mistreatment of students that’s not what were about in Great Falls Public Schools at all and as soon as we get reports or information about these kinds of things we investigate them thoroughly and if need be turn over information to the authorities.”
Parish has posted a $5,000 bond and is back in the community. If convicted the teacher’s aides face a maximum of five and half years in prison. Parish is expected to answer to the charges in two weeks.
The Cascade County Attorney's Office adds the investigation remains ongoing and more charges could follow.