Teachers aide accused of abuse

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A former teacher’s aide, whose license expired six years ago, at Violet Elementary School is being investigated for allegedly abusing a fourth-grade student.

Fairfield County Child Protective Services (FCCPS) informed parent Kristen Hamilton that a teacher’s aide at Violet Elementary School had allegedly abused her fourth-grade daughter, Hamilton told Pickerington School Board members at an Oct. 13 board meeting.

The 9-year-old suffers from Smith-Magenis syndrome – a rare genetic disorder that has resulted in a hearing impairment and behavior problems.

The incident allegedly occurred on Sept. 23; however none of the five adults (two aides, one teacher, a physical therapist, and an occupational therapist) in the special education class reported it until a week later, Hamilton said.

Hamilton related the incident from what she pieced together from talking to FCCPS and school staff:

Hamilton told school board members that she was told by FCCPS and school staff that her child was asked to stop leaning against a desk, as the girl was practically sitting on it.

As a result of the reprimand, her daughter fell to the floor, which is a reaction common for children with Smith-Magenis, Hamilton said.

At that time, the teacher was working with another student. The teacher told the aide to create a partition so that the girl’s behavior would not distract the other child, Hamilton said.

The aide then allegedly wheeled a book cart near the girl’s head. Whether she actually hit her with the cart or just taunted her has not been determined, Hamilton said. However, the other adults reported that the girl began to cry and scream, Hamilton said.

At that point, the aide used her foot to flip the 85-pound child, then the aide yanked her upwards by both wrists, Hamilton alleged.

After placing her in a "straight-jacket" hold, the aide allegedly pulled the girl to the office of Steve Morrison, Violet’s dean of students.

Another aide told the teacher of the abuse, but it is unclear if the teacher told anyone else, Hamilton said. The two therapists who were in the room were contractors, who told their employer at a meeting what had occurred the following week.

On Oct. 1, the school, the district, the Fairfield County Sheriff’s office and FCCPS became involved and FCCPS informed Hamilton of what had allegedly occurred.

The district told Hamilton that a staff member had allegedly used "obsessive force" to restrain her daughter, but offered no details, Hamilton told board members.

"It took seven days for the witnesses in the room to report the incident," Hamilton said. "State law requires that children’s services be called immediately. Three of the five people in the room didn’t have the training to know what to do. Two have lost their jobs due to negligence but it was really lack of knowledge."

The district removed all five adults from the classroom. The aide, whose license had expired six years ago, was fired.

The contracts for the therapists were revoked.  The district is still investigating whether the teacher and the second aide should keep their jobs, PLSD human resources director Dr. Larry Mullins said.

The district trains employees to contact FCCPS immediately if abuse is suspected and the teachers must sign the attendance sheet at those training sessions, said Lee Cole, Pickerington Local School District’s communications director.

Mullins said although the training was required, the staff may not have "paid attention."

Mullins, who also is an attorney, said he plans "to go to every building and personally conduct an in-service regarding the law of reporting child abuse and I will insist that everyone in the building attend."

Hamilton suspects that the incident may not have been the first. 

Last year her daughter began wetting herself and begging "no go to school, Mama," Hamilton said. What she originally attributed to the anxiety of a new building (she had transferred from Tussing Elementary), Hamilton now believes to be classic signs of abuse, she said.

Hamilton alleges the district failed by not checking to make sure the licenses were current, by not giving her details of the incident, by not training the staff on how to report abuse, and by not informing the parents of the other students why the staff members were removed from the classroom.

"Many of these children cannot speak or communicate to us as parents," Hamilton said.  "My child does not have a voice. (The staff) helps with the toilet and dressing if the needs arise. The school needs to communicate to the other parents there was physical abuse."

"We take this issue very, very seriously," Superintendent Dr. Karen Mantia said.  "We are vehemently pursuing an internal full investigation."

Hamilton has transferred her daughter to a private school.

The FCCPS told Hamilton that charges will be filed against the aide, but they must complete their investigation before determining the nature of those charges, Hamilton said.

The FCCPS could not comment directly.

A police report was filed with the Fairfield County Sheriff’s office on Oct. 1, however it indicated no charges had been filed at that time. The aide has no other incident in her personnel record, Mullins said.

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