IPS board president announces safety task force following School 87 lawsuit over ‘fight club’

A  white and blue school sign stands on a green lawn in front of a large, tan, brick building.
The IPS school board president said the board was "shocked and upset" by a video that's key to a lawsuit alleging that a teacher at George Washington Carver Montessori School 87 instigated attacks on a 7-year-old student. (Scott Elliott / Chalkbeat)

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The Indianapolis Public Schools board president said the district will create a task force focused on student safety, following the widespread circulation of a video that is part of a lawsuit alleging that a teacher encouraged attacks on a 7-year-old student with a disability.

Board President Angelia Moore said in a statement at Tuesday’s board meeting that the board was shocked and upset by what the video showed. The statement did not reference the lawsuit.

Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said in a video released Wednesday that the district would also have an external partner review its policies and procedures.

“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,” she said.

The lawsuit claims that first-year IPS teacher Julious Johnican orchestrated a “fight club” style of discipline at George Washington Carver Montessori School 87, in which he encouraged and recorded physical abuse that the student — identified as “O.D.” — suffered at the hands of other students.

The complaint references a video that the family’s attorneys say was taken by Johnican and that they believe shows an incident in September.

The video shows one student hitting O.D. repeatedly until he begins to cry, according to the complaint.

“That’s right,” says a teacher, which the lawsuit identifies as Johnican, in the video. “You get him.”

Johnican, who resigned from his position in early November and no longer works in IPS, could not be reached for comment.

Johnican told the Department of Child Services, which the lawsuit states investigated the claims of neglect after O.D.’s mother discovered the video, that O.D. and another student had had issues all year. He said he spoke with administration on what to do with classroom behaviors and management and was told to “utilize all of the resources available,” according to the DCS report.

IPS said in a statement that DCS was notified immediately when it became aware of the behavior alleged in the complaint, and that it takes reports of potential abuse and neglect seriously.

News of the lawsuit sparked an outcry among IPS parents as the video circulated last week.

“This behavior was alarming and hard for anyone to watch, but we know it’s especially close to home for parents and caregivers of IPS students — which includes four of us on this board,” Moore said on Tuesday. “Every Indianapolis family should be able to send their children to school with full confidence that caring adults are looking out for their well being.”

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department confirmed that it’s investigating an incident at School 87 at the request of the prosecutor’s office.

School 87 parents told Chalkbeat that they did not know about the allegations until media outlets reported it. Some also say that longstanding concerns brought to the school’s administration over teacher turnover, staff morale, behavior, and communication issues have gone unaddressed.

An online petition launched last week demands new leadership at the school.

Moore thanked the community for their input and said it has driven “crucial” conversations on next steps for the district.

“You have been heard, your voices are valued, and ensuring our children’s safety is all of our most important jobs as adults,” Moore said.

On Sunday, the district also informed parents that the principal and vice principal will not be at school while the district gathers information about school climate. Executive Director of Schools Adrienne Kuchik is serving as the school’s leader in the meantime.

The district is also reviewing protocols on how principals communicate with families, Moore said, and is bringing on an “external partner” to interview families at School 87.

“Our promise is to report back to you on this work in 30 days and continue to share ways in which you can get involved,” Moore said.

This story has been updated to include comments from Superintendent Aleesia Johnson.

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Lawrence Township schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at apak-harvey@chalkbeat.org.

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