May 19—When does the disciplining of a child in a classroom turn into the abuse of a child in the classroom ?
What if said child has medical and cognitive conditions which prevent him from telling what happened ?
And what if teachers and principals, tasked with his care and well-being during the school day, simply didn’t report any such incident to proper authorities ?
The above queries are at the core of an ongoing investigation at North Elementary School — where two more such alleged incidents, and both previously unreported, were revealed Thursday morning in Monongalia County Magistrate Court.
That was when Diana Ellis, a now-former substitute teacher whose contract has since been terminated by the district, appeared in court to answer to two felony counts of battery and assault of a disabled child.
‘You like that ?’
The incidents, viewed on security video by school district officials and Morgantown police, occurred last Nov. 16 and on Jan. 23, in a North classroom housing students on the autism spectrum.
A 6-year-old boy was at the center of both, though Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr. said Thursday evening he didn’t know if the target was the same student — or two different students.
In the Nov, 16 exchange, Ellis—who is certified, but not in special education—is attempting to calm a student who is kicking at her.
According to the report by Morgantown PD Detective R. Stallings, who viewed the video, the teacher “repeatedly placed her foot on the juvenile’s feet and told the juvenile to ‘stop kicking.'”
The student, the detective noted, by way of the video and witness statements, could be heard saying, “It hurts, ” and “Ow.”
The teacher, Stallings further observed, allegedly doubled-down on her punishment, saying, “OK — both of them then, ” while the student continues to cry out.
She was also said to present in that same classroom Jan. 23, with a 6-year-old boy urinated on the floor, again in an incident captured on security video.
Witness statements, plus video evidence, show Ellis grabbing the student by the upper arm, placing him against a wall, and informing he would be cleaning up the mess himself.
“Ellis later bent the student down, put his hand in the urine, and wiped the urine on his own face, ” Stallings wrote in the complaint.
She could then be heard asking the student, “You like that ?” the detective noted.
Keeping to code During yet another incident captured on video Jan. 26, now-retired vice principal Carol Muniz was observed striking an 8-year-old in the back of the head with her fist.
According to the security footage, also viewed and investigated by Stallings, the student, identified as having special needs, had become unruly.
North’s Safety Care Team, which included Muniz, was called to intervene.
The alleged assault occurred while the student, resisting the whole time, was being escorted from the classroom.
Muniz last week answered to a battery charge in Magistrate Court.
That all three charges had gone unreported in a school traditionally lauded for the academic prowess of its students only added to the woes of North — and its principal, Natalie Webb, who was also charged with failing to notify the proper authorities in a timely manner.
Authorities, which include Morgantown police, the state Department of Education, Child Protective Services and other outreach entities.
District officials, Campbell said, “didn’t know a thing.”
A North teacher not named in any accounts notified the district of the Jan. 26 incident on Feb. 12 — while alleging other aggressive acts may have occurred in the classroom earmarked for the students on the autism spectrum.
“We went through hours of footage, ” the superintendent said.
A camera, a microphone — and a voice Under state code, classrooms with special needs students must be outfitted with audio and video recording technology for security matters.
School administrators — a principal or another staffer so designated — are also required to view 15 minutes of such classroom footage every 90 days, as per code.
Campbell said the technology is necessary, in that it’s a safety net for a vulnerable population.
“You have kids in those classrooms who can’t always speak for themselves, ” he said.
But is a quarter of an hour, every three months, enough ?
“You do need resources, ” he said. “You need people.”
Ellis, in the meantime, was released from custody after posting a $10, 000 personal recognizance bond — or $5, 000 each, for both counts.
She is scheduled for a second appearance June 7 in Monongalia County Magistrate Court, for a preliminary hearing regarding the North Elementary charges.