Lawsuit Claims Indiana Teacher Tried to Sicken Autistic Boy With Peanut Candy

The mother of an 8-year-old autistic boy with severe peanut allergies said Friday that an Indianapolis teacher gave her son a peanut-filled candy bar in hopes of making him sick so he wouldn't go on a field trip.

A lawsuit filed by the boy's mother, Anita Young, alleges that special education teacher Trinda Barocas told a classroom aide that the boy would likely misbehave and "maybe he could be sick enough not to attend and we won't have to deal with it."

Young said her son, Jacob, who is mostly nonverbal, gets hives and experiences swelling if he merely touches peanuts.

Officials at Mary Bryan Elementary School in Indianapolis contacted Young in March after classroom aides reported that Barocas mistreated the boy, who was 7 at the time, and another child.

"She knew how severe his allergy was," Young said Friday. "To tempt a child with something that could take their life — honestly, it blows my mind. I think that she should be held accountable for what she's done."

Jacob didn't eat the candy bar, probably because he does not eat unfamiliar foods and didn't recognize its yellow wrapper, his mother said.

Department of Education officials and Marion County prosecutors are investigating.

Barocas, who no longer works at the school, does not have a listed phone number and her lawyer did not return a call seeking comment Friday.

She told state investigators earlier this year that the allegations were false and she did nothing to prevent the boy from attending the field trip, according to a Department of Child Services report provided by Young's attorney.

A department spokeswoman wouldn't confirm whether the agency investigated the case, citing confidentiality laws.

The lawsuit said one classroom aide told school officials that Barocas treated the boy like a "caged animal" by keeping him for hours in a cubicle that should have been used for short times alone.

Barocas also was accused of pinching the boy, standing on his foot so he could not move his leg and grabbing him by the arm to drag him around the classroom.

Young believes criminal charges are warranted.

"I'm outraged. When I think about my son's face — he can't speak — I just have to see the torture in his face," Young said, holding back tears. "It hurts a mother to know that every day I sent him back there."

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 22 in Marion County Circuit Court, seeks unspecified damages and said school officials should have known about the abuse and had a duty to protect the boy.

The school district said in a statement Friday that it filed a report with Child Protection Services immediately upon learning of the alleged abuse on March 16.

Barocas was put on administrative leave with pay on March 19 during the investigation. She told the school in February, before the allegations were made, that she would resign at the end of the school year. Officials said it was for reasons unrelated to the abuse.

Barocas had worked at the school since August 2008. It wasn't immediately clear Friday when her employment with Perry Township Schools ended.

The Indiana Department of Child Services reviewed the classroom aides' complaints and found that Barocas, "did not want (the boy) to attend the field trip to the Indianapolis Zoo because of his behavior," according to a DCS report provided by Young's lawyer.

"She stated that he did go and did many things that he was not allowed to do. Trinda compared (the boy) to an 18-month-old child several times. Trinda denied that she did anything or said anything to stop (the boy) from coming on the field trip.

The DCS report said aides also claimed Barocas hit a 9-year-old girl with Down syndrome on the lips in an attempt to make her pull her tongue back into her mouth.

Barocas told DCS officials that she would tap the girl with two fingers on her mouth as a physical prompt. Barocas said it was a therapeutic technique, not abuse.

In 2007, Barocas was placed on administrative leave in Franklin Community Schools after a nurse told a child's mother that she saw Barocas force-feed the girl, slap her and improperly restrain her, according to The Indianapolis Star. Authorities cleared Barocas in that case.

"I did not, will not and would not hurt a child in my care," Barocas told the newspaper at the time.

Young said her son became more frustrated and angry, and would fight her when she tried to make him go to school at the time of the alleged abuse. He now attends a different school.

"He doesn't fight me to go to school," Young said. "It's wonderful to see him get up and put his backpack on and wait by the door."