Reported by Sara Dorsey
GALLATIN, Tenn.A family says they have proof that the Sumner County school system knew a special education teacher was abusing students and did nothing about it.
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On Monday, that family joined a lawsuit against the Sumner County School Board and teacher Donna Weidenbenner.
The lawsuit claims the teacher shoved, kicked, stood on top of students and even strapped them to a toilet.
One attorney said his clients brought the problem to the attention of school officials three years ago in a meeting that was recorded on tape and paper.
"He said that she grabbed his head and he just showed grabbing it and shaking it," said mother Jamie Minnis.
Jamie and Terry Minnis said they were concerned by the story their autistic 5-year-old son came home telling them in April 2007. Their child was a student in Weidenbenner's special-education class at Beech Elementary School, so they went to school administrators.
In an audio tape of the meeting, Weidenbenner can be heard explaining her teaching techniques.
"I did not shake his head. I did touch his head. I will admit to that because I was trying to get him to look at me, said Weidenbenner on the recording.
Principal Brenda Green defended Weidenbenner's teaching style during the meeting.
"She has a program, and she totally goes about it in a way that an onlooker might say, 'That's a little bit too strict,'" said Green on the recording.
The Minnises said the reaction they received was not what they hoped for.
"It was very frustrating," said Jamie Minnis.
The year ended, Weidenbenner transferred to Station Camp Elementary and the Minnises moved on.
But then on the news, the Minnises learned six families were suing Weidenbenner and the school board for alleged abuse during the 2008-09 school year.
"Actually, our son came through the living room, and at about the time that Donna's face was on television, he froze in the middle of the floor and stood there shaking," said Terry Minnis.
Lawyers said a note handwritten by the principal of Beech Elementary at the time shows that school administrators knew something was going on but did nothing to stop it.
"That's our position in all of the cases is that there was more than sufficient notice in prior years of (improper) conduct in the classroom," said the Minnises' attorney, Andy Allman.
The Minnises are now the seventh family to file suit.
"I think if something had been investigated further, then if they had actually taken us serious, then maybe it could have prevented, said Terry Minnis.
In July, Weidenbenner was indicted on child abuse charges.
Weidenbenner's attorney said she denies any wrongdoing and has nothing to hide, but because of the ongoing criminal case, they cannot comment right now.
Channel 4's calls to the attorney for Sumner County schools were not returned Monday.
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