A former teacher in Indiana is accused of orchestrating a “Fight Club” in which he encouraged classmates to beat up a 7-year-old student with disabilities and videotaping at least one assault, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

The 7-year-old boy’s mother filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Marion County that also names Indiana Public Schools Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, George Washington Carver Montessori IPS School 87 Principal Mary Kapcoe and the child’s former teacher Julious Johnican.

A second-grader was allegedly attacked by other students — and a teacher recorded the incident and supposedly encouraged the violence, at George Washington Carver Montessori IPS School 87 in Indianapolis.
A second grader was allegedly attacked by other students — and a teacher recorded the incident and supposedly encouraged the violence.via Connell Michael LLP

Other defendants include the district, the district’s Board of School Commissioners, the school’s assistant principal, a substitute teacher and a behavioral consultant.

According to the lawsuit, weeks into the 2023-24 school year, the child, who is identified only as “O.D.,” began complaining to his mother about being abused and harassed at school.

The suit alleges that Johnican orchestrated “a reprehensible ‘fight club’ type of discipline within his classroom over a span of three months in which he encouraged, instigated, and on at least one occasion recorded on his phone physical abuse of O.D. by other students.”

“In this horrifying setup, Johnican not only permitted but incited and facilitated other students to engage in acts of violence against seven-year-old O.D., which included at least three beatings and various forms of physical harm and bullying both for his own amusement or as a deeply disturbed disciplinary measure,” the suit says.

Catherine Michael, an attorney representing the student’s family, said the teacher appeared to be using the fighting as “a disciplinary technique.”

“Instead of beating a child senselessly himself, at least according to what we have, he was allowing another child to do it,” Michael told NBC affiliate WTHR of Indianapolis.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said that on Wednesday it opened an investigation into the allegations in the lawsuit at the request of the county’s prosecutor’s office.

The school district said in a statement that it took immediate actions once it learned of the allegations. It also said the teacher was initially suspended and then resigned on Nov. 2, before the district could begin termination proceedings.

“IPS does not tolerate the type of behavior alleged in the complaint and takes reports of potential abuse and neglect seriously,” the district’s statement said. “When IPS learned of the teacher’s conduct, the Department of Child Services (DCS) was immediately notified, and the teacher was removed from the classroom and suspended. The teacher had no further contact with students and is no longer employed by IPS.”  

A second-grader was allegedly attacked by other students — and a teacher recorded the incident and supposedly encouraged the violence, at George Washington Carver Montessori IPS School 87 in Indianapolis.
A second grader was allegedly attacked by other students — and a teacher recorded the incident and supposedly encouraged the violence — at George Washington Carver Montessori IPS School 87 in Indianapolis.WTHR

The district also said it was not made aware of the allegations the teacher encouraged fights until the parent emailed the principal on the evening of Oct. 30. But the principal did not see the email until the next morning and immediately contacted the Department of Child Services and the school system’s human resources personnel, the district said.

A spokesperson for the district said Thursday that Johnson, the superintendent, and the school principal would not comment on the allegations.

Attempts to reach Johnican, who is described as a first-year teacher in the district in the suit, were unsuccessful Thursday afternoon. Phone calls to numbers associated with his relatives were not answered Thursday afternoon.

The lawsuit alleges that the second grader was “thrown to the ground, struck, slapped, and hit in the head repeatedly” in at least three attacks.

Johnican, the suit says, held the child on two occasions while “allowing other students to punch, hit and kick him.”

The child’s mother had repeated meetings with Johnican to discuss her son’s allegations, but Johnican dismissed them and attributed the problem to the student’s behavioral issues and said the student was lying or mentally ill, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, on Sept. 22, the child’s mother told the vice principal of the allegations after she was called to the school because her son was hysterical and unable to calm down.

His mother went to the school that day and observed him in the classroom for 45 minutes. That day, her son again told her he was being abused in school, the suit says.

“O.D. informed his mother that in the teacher’s presence and by his direction that another student had slammed his head down on a desk, pulled him to the floor, and then hit him repeatedly in the head. He directly indicated this was being done at the instruction of his teacher Mr. Johnican,” the lawsuit said.

The child, according to the suit, began asking to avoid school, and his grades slipped.

On Nov. 1, his parents had a meeting with Johnican, who intended to show a video of his classroom’s environment but instead inadvertently began showing a video of the student being attacked, the suit says.

“When the parent attempted to grab the phone, he inadvertently turned up the volume where the parents could hear that it was him, the teacher, instigating and encouraging the beating of their disabled seven-year-old child,” according to the lawsuit.

“The distressing content of the video made by Johnican shows O.D. on the floor crying as he is repeatedly punched in the face and head by a peer who is sitting on top of him as he cries out and begs for the attack to cease,” it says.

In an interview with the Department of Child Services, the student said that he was assaulted twice in October and that Johnican held him down in one instance while a first grader slapped his face, according to the suit. And in a second alleged incident, Johnican held his shoulders while another student punched him in the stomach and kicked him in his legs, the suit said.

Some of the claims in the lawsuit include negligent care and supervision; negligent hiring, retention and supervision; and intentional infliction of serious emotional distress.

The child is now homeschooled, he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and he is in therapy at least once a week, the lawsuit said.

The suit requests a jury trial and says damages will be determined at trial.

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