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 Education - The Little Red Schoolhouse

Lawyer: Teacher’s action not a crime

Now-retired Perry educator asks that felony charges of hitting mentally disabled man be dropped

By Jon Murray

Posted: September 22, 2009

A former Perry Township teacher accused of twice striking a disabled student asked a judge Monday to dismiss his felony battery charges.Thomas E. Cripe’s attorneys cited Indiana’s corporal punishment protections for educators, spelled out in laws and court rulings dating to the 19th century that give teachers some leeway as long as it isn’t excessive or cruel.
But a prosecutor said comparisons to previous cases missed the point: Cripe’s student was a 20-year-old man with autism and severe mental retardation.

“This young man was anything but an average student, was anything but an average child,” Deputy Prosecutor Tom McLennon said during a hearing in Marion Superior Court.

Judge Marc Rothenberg said he would rule on the motion to dismiss charges by Sept. 29. If he denies the motion, Cripe will stand trial Oct. 7.

Cripe, 65, is now retired and plans to let his teaching license lapse, his attorneys said.

His 17-year career ended after accusations of two incidents days apart in August 2008 at RISE Learning Center, 5391 Shelby St. The school serves special-education students from Southside districts in pre-kindergarten through high school.
Prosecutors charged Cripe with two counts of battery, a Class D felony, each based on accusations that he struck the face of student Brent Mobley. The first incident took place during a diaper change in a bathroom, the second at a classroom table.

Both times, Cripe’s attorneys said, Mobley was unruly and struck the teacher first, and he responded with a light touch after verbal commands failed.

“Those two incidents do not rise to the level of a crime,” defense attorney Andrew Duncan said. “It is our contention that Mr. Cripe was trying to restore order to a classroom where there was a disruptive student.”

Perry Township Schools officials have said striking a student is never acceptable.
 

Abuse, neglect claims not reported at 2 Miami schools

As child welfare heads look into two recent incidents involving autistic students, they warn: Heed the state’s mandatory child-abuse reporting law, or face consequences.

cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com

State child-welfare administrators are investigating allegations of abuse or neglect involving autistic children at two Miami schools, and why authorities at both schools failed to report them.

The first incident occurred on Sept. 2, when an 11-year-old boy with autism told his parents he had been struck on the neck by a teacher’s aide at Gilbert Porter Elementary School in Miami. The boy said the aide became angry when he used a curse word, took him into a bathroom and slapped him.

The incident is being investigated both by the Miami-Dade Schools police and the Department of Children & Families, said spokespeople from both agencies.

In a second incident, DCF is investigating how a 7-year-old girl with autism was allowed to wander off from the Carrie Brazer Autism Center and cross the street before being rescued by a good samaritan in a parking lot at nearby Baptist Hospital, said Flora Beal, a DCF spokeswoman in Miami.

The mother of the little girl said administrators at Carrie Brazer also failed to notify her that the little girl had wandered off, Beal said.

“I don’t know what it is going to take to get mandatory reporters to actually make the call,” said Jacqui Colyer, DCF’s top administrator in Miami. “There is a penalty for not making the call.”

In 1999, Florida lawmakers made it a misdemeanor for adults who come in regular contact with children — including teachers, coaches, social workers, clergy and counselors — to fail to report suspicions that a child has been abused or neglected.

Neither Colyer nor a spokesman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office could recall such a mandatory reporter ever being prosecuted under the statute, which carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“Mandatory reporting is about making sure schools are transparent and telling the truth and looking out for the best interests of children,” Colyer said.

And in the case of autistic or other disabled children, the need to report concerns is even more acute, said Beal. “We are charged with protecting the vulnerable,” Beal said, “and who are more more vulnerable than children who cannot even speak for themselves?”

In the Gilbert Porter Elementary case, the youngster’s mom said DCF was not made aware of the incident for nine days — and only when the agency was contacted by the parents.

Kelly Villavicencio Ruocco, 37, said her son, Sebastian, came home from school upset, and told her his aide had slapped him. She reported her concerns to the school the next day, she said, and took her son to his pediatrician after his neck became red and painful.

A report from the boy’s doctor, which Ruocco shared with The Miami Herald, diagnosed the boy as suffering from “trauma to the right side of neck” that resulted in muscle spasms.

Ruocco said she’s angry, because school administrators tried to talk her out of demanding an investigation. “I said, `I don’t care; I want an investigation. If it happened to my son — who, thank God can talk — I don’t know what [the aide] can do to other kids who can’t communicate.’ ”

John Schuster, a spokesman for Miami-Dade schools, confirmed that the schools police are looking into Ruocco’s allegations. The teacher’s aide who was accused of hurting the boy is not at the school for personal reasons, he added.

Read Article In Full:  http://www.miamiherald.com/news/southflorida/story/1245081.html



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