The Hamilton Spectator
‘She suffered severe trauma’
Lawsuit claims school failed to act properly before and after four-year-old’s finger was injured
A parent is suing Hamilton’s public school board after her youngest daughter’s finger was partially severed by a bathroom door in her kindergarten class.
The lawsuit alleges four-year-old Autymn-Rose Harrison was in the bathroom inside her Prince of Wales Elementary School classroom when, during lunchtime, two other children entered the bathroom and “got into an altercation” with her.
“One of the bullies slammed a door on (Autymn), crushing her hand and causing the tip of her finger to be amputated, requiring immediate medical attention,” says the statement of claim filed March 6 by Autymn’s mother, Sjanita Harrison.
Harrison is suing the school board for $1 million for failing to “act in a reasonable manner” during and after her daughter’s injury, as well as for failing to address repeated incidents of bullying. None of the allegations have been tested in court.
A board spokesperson wouldn’t say whether the board has responded to the claim, and declined to comment on the incident.
“Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board cannot provide a specific comment on a claim that has been filed with the court,” spokesperson Shawn McKillop said in an email Friday.
Harrison told The Spectator she got a call from the school around 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2022, the day of the incident.
“They stated ... they think Autymn needs to go to the hospital and get a couple of stitches. She has a cut,” she added.
Harrison said she immediately left work, a 10-minute drive from the school. Then, she said the school called again to tell her they were calling an ambulance.
“You could hear her screaming in the background,” she told The Spec.
Harrison told The Spec she asked that her daughter’s nine-year-old sister, Londyn, accompany Autymn to the hospital. Instead, the principal and Londyn “followed the ambulance in the principal’s car, however, they did not leave immediately,” the lawsuit says.
“The school did not act with the level of urgency warranted by the circumstances,” it further alleges.
Harrison told The Spec no one from the school — not even a teacher — rode in the back of the ambulance with her daughter.
When she arrived at McMaster Children’s Hospital, Harrison said she learned Autymn had suffered not a cut but a “partial amputation” of her right ring finger — an injury detailed in a paramedic report shared with The Spec.
The hospital operated immediately, she said in an interview.
“The worst part is that I didn’t know,” Harrison added, referring to the severity of the incident.
The single mother, who said she faced eviction in Hamilton after leaving her job to take care of her recovering daughter and homeschool her eldest, wants accountability for both what happened and how it was handled.
In the lawsuit, she said the incident and its aftermath caused her physical, mental and financial stress, including loss of income, expenses for medical care and trauma.
At the time of the incident, Harrison withdrew Autymn from school altogether, while Londyn continued to do coursework from home. According to the lawsuit, she relocated her family to Toronto at the end of February “to put them in a safer community.”
“I’m very disappointed with the school and I’ve expressed that to them,” Harrison said in an interview. “I don’t understand how something like this could happen.”
In a statement emailed to The Spec before the lawsuit was filed, Jane Macpherson, the superintendent responsible for the school, said the board investigates all serious injuries and works “to provide a safe and healthy environment.”
“We do wish the student well in their recovery,” she said in the Jan. 24 email.
“There is an immediate response for care and support when any child is injured,” she added. “Family communication is always a priority and done as soon as possible.”
But, months later, Harrison told The Spec she is still looking for answers.
Harrison is seeking accountability and changes to the board’s emergency procedures that would ensure students are accompanied and supported by school staff at all times during and after an incident, according to her Change.org petition that has garnered more than 4,000 signatures.
The lawsuit says the board “failed to keep her duly informed” during and after the incident and, when she expressed frustration, dismissed her “as an ‘angry Black woman.’ ” It also says “HWDSB’s negligence and the racism (Harrison) experienced” prompted her to relocate to another jurisdiction.
“Kids are kids, and they deserve to have a safe learning environment, and they should have a reasonable amount of supervision, especially at that age,” she said in an interview.
The November incident was the culmination of ongoing bullying in the classroom, Harrison told The Spec. The lawsuit alleges the school was aware Autymn “had been bullied” and “was in danger of being assaulted,” and did not offer support.
“In spite of a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and physical aggression, no one at the school took action,” the lawsuit says.
In an email, McKillop said the board “follows policies” related to equity, human rights, anti-racism and bullying prevention, and offers “compassion and support to the family involved.” An HWDSB policy, last reviewed in 2023, states bullying “is not acceptable and will not be tolerated,” and that the board is committed to taking steps to listen to students and respond to incidents of peer victimization.
Harrison told The Spec her eldest daughter is back at school in Toronto, but Autymn “needs more time.” She hopes to send her daughter to senior kindergarten in the fall.
The four-year-old is still recovering, “mentally and physically,” her mother said. Her fingertip was salvaged and stitched back on, but is still healing.
“She has suffered severe trauma that no child should ever suffer,” the lawsuit says.