Teacher allegedly assaulted students Substitute fired after reportedly punching, shoving sixth-graders

October 22, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

A long-term substitute teacher at Oakland Mills Middle School was fired last week after three sixth-graders alleged that they were punched and shoved in an incident during a shop class.

According to the students and their parents, the teacher roughed up the students -- slamming them into lockers, throwing them to the ground and putting them in choke-holds -- in a quick succession of confrontations sparked when one student was slow to follow orders in class Oct. 15.

No serious injuries were reported, but one student, Charles Okeke, went to Howard County General Hospital's emergency room early Thursday after complaining of neck, shoulder and head pains, his mother said. He said he continues to suffer daily headaches and neck pain.

The boys' parents filed police reports last week, but Howard County police would not provide details because the incident, classified as possible child abuse, is being investigated, according to police spokesman Sgt. Steven Keller.

A school system investigation found that physical contact did occur between the teacher -- whom school officials and police refused to identify -- and the students, three 11-year-old boys.

Details of the school investigation are confidential, said Patti Caplan, a school spokeswoman.

"Based on the fact that he was removed from the [substitute] list, you can draw some conclusions from there," Caplan said.

The teacher was hired by the school system at the start of the school year to fill a sudden vacancy, Caplan said. It was unclear how long he was expected to work there, she said.

In independent conversations, the students -- two of whom have not returned to school -- provided consistent details of what happened in their technology education class last Wednesday morning.

About 15 minutes into the period, the teacher told Charles to put down a chain saw he was holding and return to his seat.

The child did not respond promptly and the delay apparently angered the teacher, who allegedly grabbed Charles in a choke-hold and dragged him into the hallway.

"He kept saying, 'You think you're tough. You think you're big,' " Charles said. "He punched me in the eye and threw me down three times. I just wanted to get to the office and call my mom, but he wouldn't let me go."

At least one adult -- a music teacher from across the hall -- and another student in the class, Derrick McPhearson, asked the teacher to stop, students said.

After Charles went to the school office, the teacher confronted Derrick.

" 'You're going to learn never to interfere with my business,' is what he said," Derrick said. " 'Or else I'll do the same thing to you.' And I just said, 'I dare you.' "

A third student, Chris King, became involved after he told the teacher he could not do his work because his class partner, Derrick, was no longer in class, the students said.

The two allege they were assaulted in similar fashion: pushed, held in choke-holds and thrown to the ground.

Dozens of students witnessed the incidents in which the teacher yelled and used profanity, students said.

"It was really scary," Derrick said. "I was really upset and shocked that a teacher would do that to a kid. I have never seen anything like that in my life."

The boys, crying, ended up in the school's front office, they said. They were seated in three separate rooms and told to write down what had happened.

The school principal referred all calls to Caplan.

Parents were called about three hours later -- a fact that angers the parents involved.

"If my kid had been in a fight, I would have been called immediately," said Gerrick McPhearson, Derrick's father. "But my kid has been verbally and physically abused and you won't even let me know."

Said Antoinete Okeke, Charles' mother: "This is so unbelieveable. The school is supposed to be [taking] care of your kids while they're there. I don't even put my hands on my child and I don't want anybody else doing it either."

Gerrick McPhearson said he has withdrawn Derrick from Oakland Mills Middle School and is seeking a transfer to another public school.

"He's a good kid, and I don't want this to stain his attitude," McPhearson said of his son. "I want to make sure he can stay firm and have confidence in his teachers and the system."

The parents have consulted an attorney but have not filed suit or criminal charges, according to Charles Ware, a Columbia lawyer.

Ware and the parents are concerned that race may have played a role in the incident: The teacher is white and the boys are black.

"Incidents like this that involve minority students have grown dramatically this year," Ware said. "I have had several dozen calls this year. Parents feel their children have been mishandled. It doesn't necessarily mean this is a problem, but I am concerned at these independent numbers of students who are complaining."

Said Kim McPhearson, Derrick's mother, "It's hard to say if things would have been different if they were white. But it is a concern."

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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