School 87 parents discuss longstanding worries about the school’s culture in light of the ‘fight club’ lawsuit

On Thursday, parents of George Washington Carver Montessori School’s 87 pupils sought more accountability from school board members after learning that the school administration had rejected concerns about safety and staff morale for months.

On Thursday, Indianapolis Public Schools board members agreed to form a special task force to assess each school’s emotional health and culture.

The concerns stem from a complaint alleging that a teacher encouraged and permitted other kids to abuse a seven-year-old student with a disability. The lawsuit refers to a video of one pupil hitting another until he starts crying, with a speaker — described as School 87 teacher Julious Johnican — encouraging the battle. That video caused considerable community outrage.

School 87 parents discuss longstanding worries about the school's culture in light of the 'fight club' lawsuit

The lawsuit describes the circumstances as “fight club” discipline. It also claims that the school administration, a substitute teacher, and a behavioral specialist failed to disclose the child’s frequent maltreatment dating back to August.

Parents at the school board meeting requested mental health help for the pupils in Johnican’s class who witnessed the alleged assault. parents also mentioned several instances in which parents said their worries about their child’s safety were ignored, suggesting a troubling culture at School 87.

Kiya Isom, whose daughter attended Johnican’s class, said she reported her daughter’s persistent bullying to the administration, vice principal, and staff, but received no follow-up. Last year, she claimed, her kid was pushed on the playground and required surgery.

“I’m very upset and disgusted because my job as a parent is to protect my child,” said Isom, who later removed her daughter from school following another incident. “And I did not do that sending her to School 87.”

Kristen Phair, head of the school’s parent-teacher organization, stated that she witnessed Principal Mary Kapcoe’s lack of regard for workers.

“This fall, after HR complaints from parents regarding staff attrition, she pulled me into our office and told me parent negativity was harming our school,” Phair told me. “She made it clear that parents’ complaints were irritating and not something she took seriously.”

More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition advocating for Kapcoe’s resignation.

“As a former public school educator myself who was once a first-year teacher like Johnican, I do not believe this would have happened if we would have had competent school leadership properly supporting, supervising and training our teachers and staff members,” Kelly Mosesso, a parent, told members of the board.

According to IPS, DCS was immediately notified about the alleged behavior in the lawsuit, and it takes reports of potential abuse and neglect seriously. Kapcoe did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

School 87 parents discuss longstanding worries about the school's culture in light of the 'fight club' lawsuit

However, as community indignation grew over the past week, the district announced the formation of a student safety task force, a review of regulations, clarity on how staff should discuss problems at school, and an external review of the culture at School 87.

The principal and vice principal will not be present on campus during this assessment, which will include feedback from families, the district informed families in letters this week.

Before Thursday’s meeting, IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson delivered a direct apology to parents at School 87 via email.

“You should not have heard about the appalling incident in Mr. Johnican’s classroom from the news — you should have heard it from IPS,” she said in a message to the editor. “This apology is long overdue for all of you, but especially for those of you whose children were in Mr. Johnican’s class last fall.”

Johnson discussed additional initiatives that IPS is doing, such as a year-long focus group to assist the school in transitioning from K-8 to K-5 and creating a healthy school climate.

Following parents’ remarks, board member Hope Hampton announced that the special task force approved by the board on Thursday will be managed by independent community leaders and mental health professionals.

“The idea is simply to find out the temperature in every building so we don’t find it out another way,” she stated, standing squarely in front of the parents. “And to set a course for how to address what we find.”

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