IPS superintendent: video of student attack is ‘appalling and disturbing’

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Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said the district “fell short” for not informing parents that a teacher was accused of filming the alleged abuse of a second grade student with disabilities by a classmate.

Johnson also described the footage as “appalling and disturbing” in a video statement released Wednesday afternoon by the district. It was the first time Johnson spoke publicly since a lawsuit was filed last week by the parent of the second grade student who accuses the teacher of orchestrating a “fight club” style of discipline last fall at George Washington Carver Montessori School 87.

“When a parent sends their child to school it is with the understanding and expectation that school staff will do all they can to keep their child safe, both physically and emotionally,” Johnson said in the video. “It is also the expectation of a parent that if their child’s safety is compromised, that staff will respond quickly and transparently in addressing the situation.”

Parents of School 87 students told WFYI they are upset they weren’t notified about the investigation or the claims of abuse until media reports last week. 

Johnson, who said she’s talked with families at the school, said external and internal reviews of district policies and culture are planned. 

“…we will further clarify our guidance for all staff, teachers and administrators regarding follow up communication of incidents in schools, which is a place where we fell short in this instance, and have regrettably caused some families to question their trust in us,” Johnson said. 

A district spokesperson said no additional information was available Wednesday about the external reviews, such as who would conduct it or if reviews are underway. 

The lawsuit alleges teacher Julious Johnica “encouraged, instigated, and on at least one occasion recorded on his phone physical abuse” of the 7-year-old second grader by other students at School 87.

There are conflicting accounts of who first contacted the Department of Child Services and when about the video in late October. The family’s attorneys and a statement from the IPS spokesperson offer differing events.

The district said Johnica was interviewed by human resources on Nov. 2, 2023 and resigned before the IPS officials could initiate termination proceedings.

Spokespeople for both the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office said they received no information from DCS or IPS about the incident.

DCS began their investigation into the video incident in November and the report was completed in February. The department determined that Johnican neglected the students and “knowingly and willingly engaged in behaviors towards the victims that jeopardized their overall well-being while in his care as a teacher at IPS 87.”

Johnson said the district would take three steps in the wake of the incident:

  • An external partner will “gather information regarding this specific incident and school climate” at School 87 by talking to parents, students, and staff. 
  • A district review of policies, protocols and procedures “to determine if there are additional actions that need to be defined and codified.”
  • An external review of “those same relevant protocols and policies.”

Tuesday night the IPS School Board said it would create a task force on student safety and wellbeing.

School 87 families were recently informed that Principal Mary Kapcoe and Assistant Principal Finea Rent will not be at the school while the district “continues to gather information regarding school climate.”

The lawsuit, which names the IPS board, Johnson, Johnican, Kapcoe, Kapcoe, and others as defendants, seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.

WFYI education reporter Lee Gaines contributed to this story. 

Eric Weddle is the WFYI education editor. Contact Eric at eweddle@wfyi.org.