‘Sick and shocked’

Abuse allegation brings mixed comments from middle school parents

Melanie Berry (left), James White (right)

By Mindy Ragan Wood, Staff Writer – A Piedmont special needs teacher is under investigation for an alleged assault on a special needs student, police officials confirmed Wednesday.

“The school notified us that they had complaints from several sources within the school and as a result of those preliminary investigations by the school, it raised the issue whether or not the police department should conduct an investigation. Dr. White contacted me and asked me to perform an investigation,” Piedmont Police Chief Scott Singer said.

Interviews with several staff members have raised Singer’s concerns.

“We have a number of sources. We want all the information from our witnesses and any victims that can tell us anything. I don’t think we have a complete list of reporting parties or witnesses or victims. There may be more than one victim,” he said.

The investigation may be complete in the next five days and would be turned over to the Canadian County District Attorney’s Office for possible criminal charges. Singer has not yet released the name of the teacher.

“We are going to tread very lightly on the release of information until we are confident that we have violations of a statute,” he said.

Melanie Berry is a mother with special needs children in the district and works as an advocate for the Oklahoma Parent Center.

“I was sick and shocked at the information that I heard. It’s my understanding that this child in question is nonverbal. As an advocate of all students with special education needs I deal with parents every day who have absolute concerns that their child can’t tell them what’s going on. When you hear something like this, it validates those parents’ concerns and they’re sending their kids (to school) hoping that their wellbeing is taken care of. Day in and day out, thousands of kids are fine, but when it does happen it sheds a horrible light on that department, as a whole, especially when there are already concerns by a lot of parents.”

Berry said several parents have contacted her both as a fellow mother and as an advocate about their concerns with Piedmont’s special education department. She declined to give specific information because she did not have permission from parents to divulge those discussions.

However, Berry did say that several parents sent her private messages speaking in defense of the accused teacher.

“Some of them don’t believe it. They told me that they knew this teacher’s character and that the teacher was the best thing that had happened to their child. All of my previous information on this teacher has been positive until now,” she said.

Another parent told the Piedmont-Surrey Gazette the allegations also involve hair pulling and physical abuse by the teacher.

“This isn’t the first time,” the parent said. “This behavior was brought to the district’s attention before and was shoved under the rug.”

The parent asked their name not be published for fear of retribution against their child.
Superintendent James White said Wednesday he could not comment if there had been a history of complaints against the teacher. He did say that the school performed an internal investigation and then contacted the police department and Oklahoma Department of Health and Human Services. The school’s internal investigation is ongoing.

On Monday he sent out an email to all parents notifying them of the teacher’s suspension and that he had personally contacted each parent whose child was in the classroom.

“We want to assure our parents and community that our district promptly investigates any and all concerns that might impact our students. Piedmont Public Schools is committed to providing a safe and positive learning environment for our students. As always, we appreciate the support and understanding of our patrons,” the email reads.