A Lyon County jury has awarded four families who sued Emporia State and two former university employees $350,000 in damages for physical abuse that occurred in 2017 at the Center for Early Childhood Education. The verdict was announced Tuesday, after a week of statements and testimony in district court at Emporia.
“We all feel that every single person up to and including the dean of Emporia State University failed these children,” said a jury member to the court after the verdict was delivered.
The families had sued ESU and former CECE director, Keely Persinger, for abuse suffered by four boys while at the center. Both Persinger and a former CECE staffer, Kim Schneider, have previously received diversion in a related criminal case. The civil jury said Tuesday the abuse was the result of Persinger’s inaction to protect four students from child abuse at the hand of Schnieder.
Of the 12 jurors, all found Schneider guilty of committing assault or battery of the four boys, who at the time between the ages of 1 and 2. Although the names of the children were discussed in open court, The Bulletin is withholding their names, and that of their families, to protect their identities
The jury found ESU 30% responsible for damages while Persinger was found to be 70% responsible, for their lack of action after the abuse was reported from several teaching assistants.
Two of the four boys will receive $75,000 in damages while the other two will receive $100,000.
The case started with a concern from CECE teaching assistants that was not acted upon by Persinger. The teaching assistants decided to take matters into their own hands. After a state investigation, a criminal case was brought against Persinger and Schneider.
“Megan Dorcas (one of the teaching assistants) was describing abuse, she was describing what she saw, and Miss Persinger did nothing,” said lead plaintiff’s attorney Peter Goss, of Goss Lawfirm in Kansas City, Missouri, in closing arguments.
The abuse Schneider was found guilty of included plopping the boys on their bottoms aggressively, holding their faces in her hand while yelling and holding the boys down on their cots with her arm and leg during nap time.
“In my world we call it (holding the boys down on their cots with her arm and leg during nap time) snuggling a child,” said David Cooper, one of the defense attorneys, in closing arguments.
Cooper is a partner at Fisher Patterson Sayler and Smith, Topeka. ESU denied the claims made that Schneider abused and or battered the plaintiffs. Cooper described Schneider’s actions as a means of keeping the four boys safe.
“Reasonable force can be used for a child’s welfare, keeping the child safe from another,” Cooper said.
He stressed the difference between abuse and disciplining a child for their own safety.
“Very clearly don’t bite your friend doesn’t work with these boys,” Cooper said. “What do you do as a parent or standing in as a parent? You step it up a notch.”
The plaintiffs sued for “pain, suffering, and mental anguish,” Goss said.
“Just because a child can’t go home and say they weren’t hurt doesn’t mean they weren’t hurt,” Goss said. “They could have been put out of harm's way if Miss Schneider had been put on administrative leave.”
The judge was Steven L. Hornbaker of the 8th Judicial District, which includes Dickinson, Geary, Marion, and Morris Counties.