Child abuse claim investigated at Independence elementary school

Parents claim 5YO daughter was put in isolation

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. - Her name is Serenity.

But life has been anything but peaceful for the 5-year-old kindergarten student.

Her parents say after a behavior incident, Serenity was dragged down the hall at Mill Creek Elementary School in Independence while her classmates watched, and she was placed in a room by herself while a staff member held the door shut.

Her parents also say Serenity was screaming, soiled herself, came home that way and no one at the school explained what happened.

"She's only five years old, she should never be put in any kind of isolation," said Serenity's father, Roger Park, who also says his daughter suffers from allergies and asthma.

"Anyone can file a complaint, but we certainly know there is one and we will cooperate completely of course," said Independence Schools Assistant Superintendent Janet Richards.

Park and his wife, Sarah Pickering, tell 41 Action News Monica Morgan, an investigator with the Children's Division of Missouri's Department of Social Services, interviewed them and Serenity at their home Thursday.

The parents say Serenity told Morgan she'd been placed in the bad behavior room by herself on multiple occasions, including the one witnessed by several students.

Richards sent a letter home to Mill Creek parents to reassure them.

She says a room at the school, labeled the collaboration room, is where students are taken to calm down after extreme behavior issues.

Richards says ideally an adult is with them, but sometimes, students are put in the room by themselves.

"Those are very rare circumstances," says Richards.

Two other parents claim, based on parent volunteer accounts, those situations aren't rare.

They also say their sons witnessed one incident involving Serenity.

"He said, 'It freaked me out, Mom,' so I can only imagine what it was doing to those kids who were watching," said Joni Gentry, a concerned parent.

Sarah Baker says her son is also in Serenity's kindergarten class.

She says her son said after Serenity hit another student, she was dragged down the hall screaming and put in the room where the bad kids go by herself while the teacher held the door shut with Serenity continuing to scream.

"He's only six; he doesn't know how to comprehend or handle this. I definitely feel concerned," Baker said.

"They could go and directly open up a line of communication with the principal," Richards said.

All the parents who spoke to 41 Action News say they have spoken to Mill Creek Principal Lindsey Miller, including Serenity's parents.

When asked who's ultimately responsible for what's happened to Serenity, her father said, "The principal, and she lied to us. She never told us the truth about anything."

Specifically Roger Park and his wife, Sarah Pickering, say Miller told them Serenity was brought to a different room with crayons, games and other things to play with when she had behavior issues, but said nothing about the empty brick walled room, labeled the collaboration room, where she was taken.

"I know that Mill Creek is a wonderful school," said Richards. "It is staffed with caring and compassionate teachers and has a principal that cares deeply about the children there," she said.

But not everyone feels that way.

Some parents are organizing a petition drive for Saturday to remove Miller as Mill Creek principal.

They plan to present that petition to the Independence School Board at the next meeting on January 12. 

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Andy Alcock can be reached at anderson.alcock@kshb.com.

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