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Baltimore spending board approves $170K settlement in suit alleging teacher assaulted student

Baltimore spending board approves $170K settlement in suit alleging teacher assaulted student

Baltimore’s spending board approved a $170,000 settlement Wednesday for a mother who alleged her then-elementary-school-aged son with autism was assaulted by a school employee in 2019.

The settlement, offered jointly by the Baltimore City Public School System via the city government, settles a lawsuit filed by Kimberly Pinder, the mother and sole caregiver of an unidentified child. Pinder sued the school system and teacher Sara Dixon in 2022. The agreement calls for the money from the city to be held in trust for the student. The family will receive another $1,500 from Dixon.

The complaint stems from a July 29, 2019, incident in which the then-Pimlico Elementary/Middle School student was allegedly forced to the ground and injured by Dixon, then a special needs teacher for the school system. Dixon is no longer employed by the school system.

In an updated complaint from December 2022, Pinder’s legal team leveraged nine charges against the school system and Dixon, including assault, battery, excessive force, intentional infliction of emotional distress and gross negligence.

According to the complaint, security footage of Pimlico Elementary/Middle School from July 29, 2019, during summer school shows Dixon pulling the student through the doorway by his shirt collar, grabbing him from behind, slamming him on the floor and then pinning him face-first into the ground with her body on his back.

Once he got up, crying, she shoved him to the floor again, the complaint says. Surveillance footage then displays Dixon and four other staff members dragging him up a flight of stairs, according to the complaint. He returned home distressed and crying, it adds.

The complaint says Dixon and the student had a negative interaction outside, which led to the student having an “autistic meltdown.” According to the complaint, that is when Dixon started trying to restrain him.

The Board of Estimates agenda characterized the scenario differently, saying Dixon was allegedly attempting “to prevent [the student] from harming himself.”

“We at the city schools take very seriously any incident of student injury,” Joshua Civin, the school system’s chief legal officer, told the board Wednesday.

Dixon’s attorney could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

The student had been transferred to Pimlico that summer from Cross Country Elementary following an incident a month prior in which he ended up at the University of Maryland Hospital. A special education paraprofessional at Cross Country had pushed him to the ground and pulled his arms and hands behind his back, though restraint is not part of his individualized education program, the complaint says. On other occasions, school staff put him in a “quiet room” or took his shoes from him during school, it adds.

The situation at Pimlico led to a prolonged period of distress for the student, the complaint states.

The student “suffered physical and emotional injuries that required both physical and emotional treatment,” wrote Pinder’s attorney, Stephen Thomas, in the complaint, adding that the child “still suffers from the trauma.”

The five-member board voted unanimously in favor of the settlement Wednesday. Council President Nick Mosby, the board’s chairman, said he was pleased to see Dixon contributing to the settlement. Mosby said he would like to see more city settlements include a portion from employees who were involved in actions resulting in settlements.

“We pay out millions and millions in settlements, and folks can still get their pension and move on with life,” he said.

Sherry Christian, spokeswoman for Baltimore City Public Schools, issued a statement emphasizing that the teacher involved in the case is no longer employed by the school system.

“We have implemented robust de-escalation procedures designed to minimize the need for physical force and to promote voluntary compliance,” she said. “These procedures include, but are not limited to, the use of persuasion, issuing warnings, moderating the pace of an incident, and requesting additional resources when necessary.”

“We remain dedicated to continuous improvement and ensuring the well-being and safety of our students and staff through ongoing training and adherence to best practices,” Christian added.

Thomas, who is representing Pinder and her son, said he would issue a statement later Wednesday.

Baltimore Sun reporter Dana Munro contributed to this article.

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