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Aberdeen parents sue school district claiming physical, emotional abuse of children with disabilities

ABERDEEN, S.D. - Three sets of parents have filed a civil lawsuit against the Aberdeen School District claiming the rights of their children with disabilities were violated.

The lawsuit was filed Dec. 21 in federal court. The plaintiffs are seeking at least $75,000 in damages and want a jury trial.

The district has yet to respond to the lawsuit and no court date has been set.

The lawsuit alleges that disabled students were physically and mentally abused by staff at May Overby Elementary and that when parents notified members of the administration of the abuse, nothing was done.

The defendants are Superintendent Becky Guffin, Assistant Superintendent Camille Kaul, former May Overby special education teacher Carrie Weisenburger, Simmons Middle School Principal Colleen Murley, May Overby Principal Michael Neubert and Aberdeen School District Special Education Director Renae Rausch.

The plaintiffs, whose real names are not listed in court paperwork, claim that each of the children began preschool at Lincoln Elementary and were “happy, well-adjusted, and thriving students with disabilities,” until they reached third grade, when they had to transfer from Lincoln Elementary to May Overby Elementary.

“However, all of the success the children experienced at Lincoln drastically changed when Aberdeen Public Schools required each child to transfer to May Overby Elementary. Suddenly, each child began to express significant distress with attending school,” the documents read.

“For a period of two years, each set of parents struggled to understand what was happening to their children at May Overby. The parents of each child, separate from other children’s parents, attended monthly meetings with May Overby administration to discuss the drastic change each child was experiencing,” according to the lawsuit.

According to the documents, no one from the Aberdeen School District disclosed that other children were experiencing the same “significant deterioration,” nor did anyone from May Overby “take any action to protect the children or disclose to the parents that other education professionals have made complaints regarding Weisenburger’s physical and emotional abuse and misconduct toward children with disabilities in her classroom.”

Weisenburger worked at May Overby as a special needs teacher from August 2014 to August 2016.

The first time the parents were informed other children were suffering similar drastic changes in their behaviors was in August of 2016, according to court documents.

“Once informed of the physical and emotional abuse, the parents immediately filed a complaint on August 26, 2016 with the United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights and the United States Department of Justice,” the documents note.

The plaintiffs claim they were never contacted by representatives from Office of Civil Rights or the U.S. Department of Justice to discuss the allegations, take statements, collect evidence or discuss resolution of the parents’ complaint, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs state in their lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation remains open, but unresolved.