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May 24, 2003

Investigation ongoing in student-abuse case

From: Fort Pierce Tribune, FL - May 24, 2003

By Derek Simmonsen staff writer

FORT PIERCE -- A first-grade teacher is under investigation after students accused her of using physical abuse to punish them in class.

The teacher, who works at Fairlawn Elementary School, is no longer working in the classroom and has been put on a temporary assignment pending the outcome of a Sheriff's Office investigation, school district spokeswoman Michelle Sjogren said Friday.

The investigation started after the mother of a 6-year-old girl in the class notified the school district about the allegations. She told investigators that she was tucking her daughter in last Thursday night when she noticed her daughter had a diary under her pillow.

After questioning her, the girl began to cry and showed her mother the diary entry, which said that Thursday had been a bad day at school. The girl told her mother her teacher had pulled her arms hard with both hands and that it hurt her.

"She began to cry because she didn't want to tell on her teacher," the girl's mother said. "I was livid."

The mother, who is a teacher's aide in the school district, notified the school and school officials in turn notified the Sheriff's Office.

On Monday, a deputy went to the school and conducted interviews with the girl's mother and with an adult interpreter who works with a deaf child in the classroom. The interpreter told the deputy she had witnessed the teacher abuse her students and gave names of several students in the classroom who had been hurt, according to a Sheriff's Office report.

About 10 students are listed as potential witnesses or victims in the report.

The investigation was turned over to the detective bureau and is ongoing, according to Mark Weinberg, a Sheriff's Office spokesman. The teacher has been with the school district for more than a decade, Sjogren said.

The girl's mother said the incident has been difficult on her daughter and she is hoping the teacher will be arrested and punished. Next week is the last day of school for the children, she said.

"I'm just hoping that these children get some type of counseling and I don't want to see this woman work with children again," she said. "Academically she was an excellent teacher, but it's almost as if she ran a military school."

The school district will wait to see what the Sheriff's Office discovers before making any final decisions.

"We emphasize this is just an allegation," Sjogren said. "We want to be overly cautious when it comes to a situation like this."

© 2003 - The E.W. Scripps Co.