Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hyde Park loses abuse case

Despite numerous reports about a teacher’s physical abuse of toddlers, Hyde Park Baptist Church kept the teacher in a classroom of toddlers. The result of their blind-eyed approach? A 1-year old named “P.C.” suffered a head injury when the teacher knocked him to a tile floor.

Hyde Park is a very prominent Southern Baptist mega-church in Austin, Texas.

As reported yesterday in the Austin American-Statesman:
“Hyde Park administrators had received numerous complaints from parents and teachers regarding Lowry’s inappropriate and abusive behavior towards toddlers. Despite these reports, which spanned a period of 10 years, Hyde Park chose to retain Lowry as a lead teacher in a classroom with children under the age of 2.”

The court of appeals’ opinion provides details, and those details are appalling. (Cause No. 03-07-00437-CV in the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals)

  • A teacher and teaching assistant reported to a Hyde Park administrator that they had personally seen lead teacher Sue Lowry knock this child and other children ”to the ground.”

  • That administrator shared the information with 2 additional Hyde Park administrators.
  • “Hyde Park administrators did not inform…parents, the police, or Child Protective Services…. Lowry remained in her position as the lead teacher in [the toddlers’] classroom.”

  • Another teaching assistant made a report about Lowry to Child Protective Services.

  • When P.C.’s mother first learned of the allegations that Lowry had abused their son, she talked to a Hyde Park administrator in person, by phone, and in a meeting that she herself insisted on. The Hyde Park administrator “refused to give her an explanation.” The mother was alarmed by the “non-responsiveness.”

  • At trial, evidence showed that “Lowry had a long history of mistreatment or inappropriate behavior towards the toddlers in her care and that many of these incidents had been reported to Hyde Park administrators by parents or other teachers.”

  • Evidence showed that “Hyde Park administrators attempted to conceal Lowry’s treatment of P.C. – and his resulting injury – from his parents, even after P.C. had become the subject of a CPS investigation.”

  • Prior to the incident with P.C., another Hyde Park employee had seen Lowry “knock over other children, use her legs to pin children against walls, and jerk on a ‘walking rope’ used for children first learning to walk, causing the children to fall down.”

  • Still another Hyde Park employee testified that “she had witnessed multiple incidents of Lowry mistreating the children in her class.” These incidents included Lowry “intentionally pushing a chair out from under a child, throwing a child onto a naptime mat from a height of two or three feet with such force that… ‘I saw her body bounce’, depriving children of food, and forcing a child to drink milk by pinning him against her body and pressing the cup to his face, leaving the child gasping for air.”

  • A teaching assistant testified, “Every two or three days for two weeks, and sometimes on back-to-back days, I would make a complaint about [Lowry’s] treatment of children to the administration.” A Hyde Park administrator told the teaching assistant that she was “the only witness” and so her statements “did not do any good.”

  • Five different parents had filed complaints against Lowry with Hyde Park administrators.

  • A parent witnessed Lowry “fling her child across the room.” A Hyde Park employee witnessed the same event, and they both reported it to a Hyde Park administrator.

  • Four different teachers had given Hyde Park administrators written documentation of “incidents in which they witnessed Lowry treating children in a rough manner.”

  • A prior Hyde Park administrator testified to the numerous complaints she received during her tenure. She met with Lowry in July 1995 and presented her a letter, describing the complaints about her conduct with children. Nevertheless, Lowry was allowed to continue working with children. “Parents, fellow teachers, and administrators continued to report” Lowry’s conduct… “prompting additional meetings.”

The injury to P.C. occurred in 2005.

It took 10 years for Hyde Park officials to remove this teacher from working with toddlers despite numerous reports of abuse.

It took a child's head injury and a CPS investigation for Hyde Park officials to remove this abusive teacher from working with toddlers.

It took a lawsuit for Hyde Park's long-standing negligence to be brought into the light of day.

If this is how Hyde Park church officials handle reports about a teacher’s physical abuse of toddlers, how do you think they would handle a report about a minister’s sexual abuse of a teen?

When you see such an entrenched lack of accountability, lack of responsibility, lack of care for kids, and lack of transparency, I think you have to assume that this church would probably handle a clergy sex abuse report in much the same way.

Perhaps they already have.


Photo by Taylor Holland, Austin Chronicle.


gmommy said...

What would be the reasons for not firing this teacher? She wasn't a pastor? She was a even a woman! I'm lost for motivation of anyone involved to continue to allow this one teacher to abuse children?????????

Anonymous said...

If I were a betting man I would wager that she had "connections" in the church that nobody wanted to tangle with.
Just a guess from years of experience!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in that church, but I won't ever set foot in it again. I hate even driving near it. You're right about everything, Christa. Everything you say is true.

Unknown said...

I'm with John. I'll bet she had connections nobody wanted to tangle with.

But why the hell are connections (or whatever the reason was) held up higher than keeping children safe?!

Christa Brown said...

And who is often the ultimate, most-connected person in the congregation? The minister. It's why it makes no sense whatsoever for Baptist leaders to keep telling abuse survivors that they should report it to the church of the clergy-perpetrator. Nobody wants to tangle with him. Nobody wants to even take the first step down the road of trying to assess it. And even if deacons or people in the congregation were willing, they wouldn't be capable of it because there's no way on the planet that they could possibly be objective.

Anon 11:06 - I don't know what happened to you at Hyde Park that gave rise to your feelings, but I hope you know that, whatever it was, you aren't alone in the way you feel. By now, I've heard so many stories about terrible things happening in Baptist churches, and about how they get covered up, and about how those who attempt to report stuff get virtually stoned into oblivion... that, sadly, I can't even imagine what anyone could tell me anymore that could possibly shock me. That's a pretty sad statement, but it's true. Welcome to the blog.

Anonymous said...

I had a situation where the man accused was the president of the local bank. To mess with him could mean the loss of a busimess, home, school loans, etc. The political corruption of baptist churches make the national parties look like Sunday Schools rather than the other way around.

Anonymous said...

The head pastor is J. Kie Bowman. He was there during this 10-year period.

But I am sure he would say he knew nothing about this.

This is very sad. Hyde Park once was a good church.