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  From left, Deborah J. Adams and Rhoda S. Richardson.

By Joe Callahan

Staff writer
Published: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 7:36 p.m.

A teacher’s aide allegedly caught verbally abusing a special-needs child at Maplewood Elementary School was fired Tuesday night by the Marion County School Board.

Deborah J. Adams did not challenge Superintendent of Schools Jim Yancey’s recommendation to terminate her contract. Adams was accused of making derogatory comments about a first-grader who has autism and cannot speak.

Philip Leppert, the district’s executive director of human resources, said since Adams did not ask for a hearing within 15 days, the board’s vote on Tuesday ended her employment.

The board also placed Maplewood teacher Rhoda Richardson on unpaid leave. The School Board did not comment on the vote, which was passed as part of the consent agenda.

Richardson, who works with Adams, is also accused of making derogatory statements about the child, documents state. She is being represented by Ocala attorney Robert Bradshaw, who filed a response to the allegation, asking for a board hearing.

At that hearing, the School Board can choose to uphold Yancey’s recommendation to fire Richardson or reinstate the 24-year veteran back into the classroom.

In October, a mother of a child in Richardson’s class thought something was wrong with her child, who reportedly has the mentality of a 2-year-old.

Since her child is non-verbal, the mother placed a digital recorder in her child’s backpack. When her child returned home, the mother listened to the comments.

The recording, made without the teacher and aide’s knowledge, revealed the child was called “a hippo,” “a beached whale sleeping” and a “hippo in a ballerina suit,” according to School District documents.

The women were also heard chastising the incontinent child for wetting herself. And they forced the child to wear soiled clothes and clean her own urine, a School District report states.

The mother shared the recording with School District administrators and the women were placed on paid leave. It took seven weeks for the district to verify who was speaking on the tape, officials said.

Bradshaw said in a written response that the evidence being used against Richardson was obtained illegally. Florida law forbids the recording of any private conversations unless all parties agree. Bradshaw said Richardson “had a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Bradshaw acknowledged the statements were improper. He also said teachers — just like other workers in high-stress jobs, firefighters and law enforcement officers, for example — say outlandish things in private. They do it to cope with stress.

Bradshaw also said his client should be presumed innocent and that he has the right to examine the evidence. He said he has not been allowed to hear the tape. Bradshaw also said it is not clear what statements his client may have made, if any, and whether the statements were even made in earshot of students.

Though Maplewood is a public school and the classroom could be deemed public, Bradshaw said that no one — with the exception of a few select administrators — can just walk into a classroom.

Most everyone must register at the front office and state a purpose for being there. If the person has been approved to go inside a classroom, the person then provides a driver’s license at the front office to get a badge. The teacher is then notified of the visitor. Therefore, the conversation between Adams and Richardson should be considered private.

Read in Full:  http://www.gainesville.com/article/20101214/ARTICLES/101219754/1105/NEWS?p=1&tc=pg



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