2013-02-06 / Front Page

Father of assaulted autistic girl satisfied with plea agreement

By Jim McConnell

Costley Costley Eleven months after an autistic Chesterfield County girl was assaulted at school by a teacher’s aide, her family is still dealing with repercussions from the incident.

“There’s nothing worse than reaching for your daughter and having her cower,” said Rob Thompson, father of the now 13-year-old Matoaca Middle School student.

“That’s not a reaction we ever had from her.”

Thompson spoke outside the Chesterfield County courthouse last week, where the teacher’s aide who hurt his daughter was convicted of misdemeanor assault by Circuit

Court Judge T.J. Hauler. He said his family has not yet decided whether to file a civil suit.

Jan M. Costley, 35, entered a no contest plea and was sentenced to 12 months in jail, with 11 months suspended for a period of three years. She will have to perform 100 hours of community service and enroll in an anger management program.

Costley was convicted for the first time last June in the county’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, but appealed that verdict. Last Tuesday, less than 24 hours before her new trial, her attorney reached a plea agreement with Commonwealth’s Attorney B.J. McGee.

Although Costley’s sentence includes only half the jail time she received after her first trial, Thompson said he was satisfied with the plea agreement and pleased that his wife didn’t have to relive the events of last March on the witness stand. “We’re still working through some issues, but it’s nice to finally come to a conclusion,” he added.

Thompson, who criticized Matoaca Middle School and Chesterfield County Public Schools last June for “failing my child,” reiterated that position last week.

But he also is happy with steps the school system has taken in the wake of his daughter’s assault. Costley was dismissed from her position. Thompson said a special education teacher and another teacher’s aide also were reassigned.

Tim Bullis, community relations director for Chesterfield County Public Schools, said he couldn’t comment on or confirm any personnel changes because of privacy issues. But he acknowledged that “this particular issue was a serious one and was taken seriously by the school division.”

“Creating and sustaining a safe, supportive and nurturing learning environment for students and staff continues to be one of our priorities,” Bullis said. “We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with parents to provide learning environments that are free from distraction and disruption.”

Thompson cautioned against painting Chesterfield County teachers “with a broad brush stroke” because of Costley’s behavior.

“I use that old adage that one rotten apple doesn’t ruin the whole barrel,” he said. “There are a lot of great teachers and special education teachers in Chesterfield County. They have a very hard job to do; as parents of a special-needs child, we know that because we do it every day. Unfortunately, Ms. Costley has given them a bad rep.”

Costley was assigned to work with Thompson’s daughter March 7, 2012, during a physical education class.

Footage captured by video cameras in the Matoaca Middle School gymnasium showed Costley repeatedly pulling on the girl’s arms.

Costley claimed that she was simply trying to help the girl learn how to accomplish the assigned tasks – bowling and bean-bag toss – that her class was working on as part of the Special Olympics program.

Costley also gave a statement to detectives investigating the case that the girl, who is non-verbal and also has a rare genetic disorder in addition to autism, was being “mean and disrespectful.”

The girl was disciplined with a timeout during that gym class. When she got off the bus later that day, her mother noticed discoloration on her daughter’s nose and swelling in her face. A school representative suggested that she might have been accidentally struck in the face with a ball during gym class.

It wasn’t until the Thompsons bathed her later that evening that they noticed bruising on her arms. They informed officials at Matoaca Middle and a subsequent investigation led to Costley’s arrest.

“A detective is on record saying that she was lucky her shoulder wasn’t pulled out of its socket,” Thompson said. “We’re trying to help her get over some fears she has. We’ve seen some positive signs, but we deal with it day by day.”

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