Couple accepts $200,000 settlement with Lee School District in kindergarten abuse case

Catherine Hile

Catherine Hile

A couple who claims their autistic son’s kindergarten teacher twisted his wrists, bent his fingers back and force fed him has accepted a $200,000 settlement agreement with the Lee County School District.

But they say their son will never be the same.

Nicole and Cynthia Brimm sued the district last year for hiring Catherine Hile despite her history of inappropriate discipline in a previous job teaching special needs students in Charlotte County. Hile resigned before she could be fired for her actions, which included stepping on children’s toes to keep them in line and putting hand sanitizer in their mouths to keep them from yelling.

The lawsuit also alleged district administrators kept Hiles in the classroom despite reports of similar behavior in Lee County, while teaching at Gulf Elementary in Cape Coral.

Because of the seven months he spent in Hile’s classroom during the 2008-09 year, the couple’s nonverbal son, now 10, requires nearly 24-hour day care, Nicole Brimm said. Once happy-go-lucky and sweet, he now can’t be outside of arm’s length because he might hurt himself — something that never happened until he joined Hile’s class.

“Obviously, my own child has been irreversibly damaged,” Nicole Brimm said. “However, I would never want that to happen to another family. I would never want to have another family have to go through what we’ve endured.”

The Lee County School District declined to comment on the case, but said Hile has not worked in the district since February 2010. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful Friday.

State records show Hile received a letter of reprimand from the Florida Department of Education in October 2008 for discipline of students in Charlotte County, including stepping on children’s toes, putting hand sanitizer in their mouths and tying their shoe laces to their chairs to keep them in place. Hile also repeatedly punched a 13-year-old nonverbal, autistic child in the arm, according to state documents.

That investigation found her history of inappropriate discipline of special needs students dated back to 1994, when a principal gave her a letter of reprimand for conduct including calling a student a bastard and hitting another in the face to get his attention.

Facing termination, she resigned from the Charlotte County School District in January 2006.

Hile’s history should have prevented Lee County School District administrators from ever hiring her, Nicole Brimm said. She said she could not believe administrators would knowingly put children “in the line of fire” again.

“When you look at her record and you look at all of the investigations, it is unbelievable that she was ever allowed to be in Lee County schools,” Nicole Brimm said. “It is just unbelievable to me. I just can’t even fathom it.”

In Lee County, Hile came under fire in August 2008 for lying on top of a 5-year-old autistic child, who was left rug burned and bruised. That led to a Lee County Sheriff’s Office investigation, which did not result in charges against her.

Later that school year, Hile’s classroom aides and others went to Gulf Elementary school administrators with concerns about the teacher’s behavior toward students. Among the behavior they reported: Hile knocked out a child’s tooth, scratched a child, held children’s noses closed and rubbed a child’s spit in his face, according to the lawsuit filed by the Brimms.

A teacher told then-Gulf Elementary Principal Martin Mesch and other district administrators that she heard children’s screams coming from Hile’s classroom and noticed bruises on a student, the lawsuit states.

Around the same time, the Brimms noticed their son had begun acting differently — attacking himself, others and the family’s animals. Because he cannot speak, they couldn’t figure out why his behavior had changed.

“For this to happen to a child who just can’t tell you what happened to them, to me, is just the most hurtful and unbelievable thing that I just can’t even put it into words,” Nicole Brimm said.

At the height of it, she said, her son hit himself in the head an average of 500 times per day. The Brimms met with Mesch and showed him the unexplained bruises on their son’s body. They scheduled an appointment with a pediatric neurologist.

By the time the appointment rolled around, Nicole Brimm said, the Department of Children and Families contacted the family to tell them Hile was under investigation for abuse.

“All the sudden, bells started going off in your head,” Nicole Brimm said.

She said no amount of money could have ever been enough to make up for the damage. The couple decided to accept the settlement, which was approved by the court on March 8, because they’re ready for the case to be over.

Nicole Brimm said believes Hile and the district have now been held accountable for what happened.

“I don’t believe that Catherine Hile will ever teach again and I believe that Lee County schools has seen the error of their ways,” she said. “And what his mother and I both wanted was for this to be brought to the forefront.

“Abuse is never OK, ever.”

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features