BY ERIC NEWHOUSE • TRIBUNE PROJECTS EDITOR • OCTOBER 23, 2009
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock rejected a request Thursday to conduct an investigation into allegations of abuse in a special education classroom at North Middle School.
Two former teacher's aides already have been charged with felony assault on a minor and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of children after parents said the aides took an autistic 13-year-old to a sink and held the boy's head underwater for dozing off in class.
After reading media accounts of the alleged abuse, state Rep. Bill Wilson, D-Great Falls, wrote Bullock asking for an impartial investigation and saying that a school resource police officer investigating a potential felony in the school he is assigned to could be a conflict of interest.
"I think the best disinfectant is sunlight and quite frankly, it is sorely lacking here," Wilson wrote.
Bullock thought otherwise after discussing the matter with prosecutors and Great Falls Police Chief Corky Grove, said Justice Department spokesman Kevin O'Brien.
"He has been briefed on the situation and he will continue to remain in contact, but he believes this is a local matter," O'Brien said.
Wilson said Thursday that he understood the AG's position, but his job as a state legislator is to ask tough questions about situations that concern his constituents.
"I'm still uncomfortable with the initial internal investigation," Wilson said. "I'd rather see an outside detective immediately brought in when allegations are this serious.
"We also need to take a hard look at the screening processes and training for teacher's aides," Wilson said. "Obviously, not all people are well suited to work with special-needs students. The Legislature may be able to give some direction on these issues.
One of the aides charged in the case, Julie Ann Parish, made an initial court appearance in state district court Monday, where bond was set at $5,000. Another aide, Kristi Kallies, has been located in San Antonio, Texas, and arrangements are being made to have her return to face charges, Deputy Cascade County Attorney Kory Larsen said.
Prosecutors considered charging special education teacher Heidi Budeau, but found no evidence that she directly abused the boy. Several witnesses said she knew what was going on and did nothing to stop it, but Larsen said that was less a criminal matter than a professional competency matter for school officials to weigh.
Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Crawley said Budeau no longer works for the district.
The Bismarck, N.D., public school system confirmed that Budeau is now a special education teacher at Wachter Middle School in Bismarck. She did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Tifonie Schilling, the mother of the alleged victim Garrett Schilling, now 14, said another special education aide told her that Garrett was abused in three specific ways in his special education classroom at North.