Pupil punished with board

pastor charged

Odenton Christian corporal policy at issue

boy faced `sword or board'

April 05, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt and Johnathon E. Briggs | Laura Barnhardt and Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

The pastor of Odenton Baptist Church has been charged with child abuse and assault in the punishment of an 8-year-old pupil at its school nearly three weeks ago.

The Rev. Timothy L. Yetter, 42, was served with a criminal summons yesterday, the second time that an administrator at Odenton Christian School has been accused of abuse. The case also puts the private school's corporal approach to discipline under public scrutiny.

It comes as the school deals with other legal problems. A lawsuit filed by a former teacher alleges discriminatory employment practices, and the county has threatened to close it for alleged violations of fire and safety codes, including crowding in classrooms and unsanitary conditions.

Today, Odenton Christian School administrators are scheduled to meet with county officials to discuss safety conditions. Inspectors have issued several dozen citations against school officials since January, according to Anne Arundel County authorities.

According to a police report and charging documents filed in District Court, the boy said Yetter gave him a choice of sword or board for his punishment March 16.

The child told his parents he thought the pastor was going to cut off his arms with a sword and chose the alternative. He said a board was used to hit him on the buttocks 15 times.

That evening, the boy's father discovered severe bruising and the boy's mother took him to Kimbrough Ambulatory Hospital at Fort Meade, police said. The attending physician said the bruising was consistent with abuse, according to police reports.

Police obtained a search warrant and seized from Yetter's office as evidence a sword and a foot-wide, 26-inch-long wooden board that the boy said was used as a paddle. The boy told police Yetter hit him with the board for disobeying his teacher.

School officials said they had no comment about the charges against Yetter. His lawyer, Joseph F. Devlin, said he could not discuss the case until he saw a copy of the charging documents.

Corporal punishment is part of the school's disciplinary policy, which forbids teachers from shouting or raising their voices but permits paddling in certain circumstances. Parents sign releases to allow the paddling.

According to a copy of the policy obtained by The Sun, the school director is supposed to talk with the pupil to make sure he or she understands and admits the offense and then prays with the child, who is to be paddled three times on the posterior in the presence of another staff member.

If the child will not submit to the paddling by bending over and putting his or her hands on a chair, the parent is supposed to called, according to the policy.

Parents learned of the abuse charge yesterday afternoon, shortly after it was announced by the police. Several acknowledged signing releases to allow corporal punishment, saying it was required for enrollment. But some were shocked at the allegation that a boy was repeatedly struck with a large board by the pastor.

"A building code violation is one thing, but abuse is another," one mother said.

Several parents said they were especially upset that school officials had not sent letters home about the abuse charge. Tuesday night, they said, the pastor attended a student Easter production, where he prayed and talked with parents and congregants but did not mention the criminal charges that police initially had brought in an arrest warrant that day.

"It bothers me quite a bit," said school parent John Leu. "We pay the bills."

Because his daughter has never had behavioral problems, Leu said, he never thought the school's corporal punishment policy would be an issue.

Many parents said they were unaware that similar charges had been brought in 1994 against the director of Odenton Christian School, Thurston Eugene Pike.

Pike was accused of beating a 3-year-old boy with a paddle, according to court records. In that case, police seized a 14-inch paddle.

Pike, 67, who continues as the school director, was charged in May with failing to comply with the county's fire code and thereby creating an unsafe environment, according to court records. Prosecution was put on hold in May, but the case has not been dismissed.

"Parents talk about the conditions of the school," said one mother, sitting in her minivan waiting for classes to be dismissed yesterday. "But no one has told us anything about the abuse charges."

The woman, who asked not to be identified, saying she feared retaliation from school officials, said she had previously planned to send her 7-year-old daughter to another school next year.

Yetter is the father of a son and two daughters. Another son - an 11-year-old pupil at Odenton Christian School - died in 1996 in what was described as a freak accident involving exercise equipment in the basement of his home on church property in the 8400 block of Piney Orchard Parkway.

Devlin persuaded a District Court judge yesterday to have the arrest warrant for Yetter withdrawn and reissued as a criminal summons.

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