Court documents detail alleged abuse of autistic student; School board response sparks small protest

Published 12:22 pm Thursday, January 17, 2019

STANFORD — A small group of protesters stood outside of the Lincoln County Student Support Center Tuesday as cars passed and occasionally obliged a sign that read “Honk for autism.”

It was a decision by the Lincoln County School Board to terminate two assistant teachers and relocate one teacher after they were charged with the alleged abuse of an autistic student that stirred Krystal Freeman to organize the protest.

Freeman, a Lincoln County resident and mother of a nine-year-old, non-verbal autistic son, said she was outraged when she learned that the teacher, Rebecca Spurlock, had not been terminated along with the two instructional assistants, Janie Hasty and Teresa Sparkman.

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The alleged incident occurred Jan. 3 in the Alternate Curriculum classroom at Lincoln County High School. According to a criminal summons addressed to Spurlock, video evidence showed a student, who is non-verbal and autistic, walking around the room when Hasty allegedly started punching at his head and “taunting the student.”

The summons states that Hasty and Sparkman had the same student in a corner on the ground when Hasty twisted his arm, pulled him up off of the floor and then shoved him.

“At one point Teresa laughed,” the summons states.

Hasty also allegedly pushed the student down when he went to get food from the food cart.

During the incident, Spurlock is seen standing up with eight or nine students gathered around.

“At no point did the above subject (Spurlock) try to intervene and stop the incident from happening,” the summons states.

Last week, the three employees were charged with second-degree criminal abuse, a class D felony in Kentucky, and served criminal summons to appear in court. According to court records, Spurlock, 50, of Crab Orchard, and Hasty, 51, of Stanford, are both scheduled to appear in Lincoln County District Court Feb. 4 for an arraignment. A court date had not been scheduled for Sparkman, 52, of Waynesburg, as of Wednesday morning.

The Lincoln County Circuit Clerk’s Office confirmed Sparkman was served a criminal summons on Jan. 10 but said no court date had been scheduled yet.

Following the completion of the school district’s internal investigation, the Lincoln County Board of Education voted last Thursday to terminate Hasty and Sparkman from their positions, effective immediately, and relocate Spurlock from the classroom to the Student Support Center for the remainder of the year.

Superintendent Michael Rowe said this week he could not answer questions related to the decision to relocate Spurlock due to the Kentucky State Police’s ongoing investigation.

According to Rowe, Spurlock has been moved to a certified position under the supervision of Claudia Godbey, the district’s Director of Exceptional Children.

“The position has no contact with students,” Rowe he said.

But for Freeman and the other protesters, relocating Spurlock was a decision that did not go far enough.

“I’m livid and we can’t tolerate this kind of behavior,” Freeman said holding a protest sign outside of the Student Support Center.

Charity Phillips said her son, who is also autistic and non-verbal, is the reason she showed up to join the protest Tuesday.

Phillips and Freeman said both of their sons were enrolled in the Lincoln County School District in the past but are now home-schooled — a decision they say they are glad they made.

“They are definitely better off,” Freeman said.

Joey Wren, the father of twin 15-year-old sons that are on the autism spectrum, said the incident has caused him to question their safety as students at LCHS.

“I couldn’t imagine anything like that happening to them,” Wren said. “They love their school but I want them to be safe at the same time and know they’re taken care of.”

For now, Wren said he is going to keep them enrolled at the high school but the incident has caused him some concern.

Together, the group stood on the Danville Avenue sidewalk for about three hours as school traffic was released and made it’s way past them.