School says unaware of abuse at beaten boy's home

AP News
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Posted: Nov 11, 2014 6:24 PM

COATESVILLE, Pa. (AP) — Suburban Philadelphia school staff tried contacting the parents and visiting the home of a 3-year-old around the time prosecutors say he was beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend. But the school wasn't aware of any abuse, school officials say.

"We are devastated by the horrors these boys endured," Coatesville Area Superintendent Cathy Taschner said.

A school district review found that staff at Rainbow Elementary followed protocol after the child's 6-year-old brother was absent from kindergarten about two weeks, Taschner said Monday.

They left an automated telephone message after the first absence and followed up with personal calls; they sent written communications and eventually dispatched a home-school visitor to the last address in the kindergartener's file, district spokeswoman Beth Trapani said Tuesday.

No one was home so the home-school visitor left a note, Trapani said.

"There was no response to any of these attempts," she said.

Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan says it was around this time that "an American horror story" was unfolding. Prosecutors say the kindergartener and his younger brother were at home, where his mother and her new boyfriend repeatedly spanked and punched them, hung the boys upside down and whipped them.

Prosecutors say Jullian Tait and Gary Fellenbaum went car shopping, bought pizza and engaged in sexual activity as 3-year-old Scott McMillian lay dying. On the day he died, Nov. 4, the mother and boyfriend made the kindergartener punch his younger brother as a form of discipline, prosecutors say.

Tait, 31, and Fellenbaum, 33, have been arrested and jailed on murder and other charges. The 6-year-old has been placed in the custody of relatives. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Hogan said the school district has been "fully cooperative" with investigators.

Citing federal privacy laws, Trapani said she could not give the dates of the calls and visits or verify whether the school staff visited the mobile home where prosecutors said Tait and the boys had lived with Fellenbaum, his ex-wife and their 11-month old daughter since mid-October. Because of the family's recent move, the school staff may have been working from outdated contact information for the kindergartener's home.

Trapani said families sometimes move out of the community without notifying the schools, although Tait and her children apparently stayed in the Coatesville district.