Friday, October 22, 2010

NC teacher charged with breaking the arm of disabled student returns to classroom

From The Fayetteville Observer:

A teacher charged with breaking the arm of a 5-year-old student while trying to restrain her will return to work today after a month-long investigation by Cumberland County schools.

The investigation found that Jackie Bennett did not follow proper procedure when he tried to place the child in a therapeutic hold after she became disruptive on Sept. 16, schools Superintendent Frank Till said.

"Had he followed the proper procedure, this would not have happened," Till said.

Bennett, 57, of the 6500 block of Pacific Avenue, teaches students with mental and behavioral learning disabilities in kindergarten through second grade at J.W. Coon Elementary School.

Bennett will be allowed to return to his same job, Till said. Bennett had been on paid suspension since the incident, Till said. That will be changed to two weeks of unpaid suspension, and the pay he had received will be revoked.

"He didn't break the child's arm out of anger or anything like that," Till said. "He was merely trying to calm her down."

Till said Bennett will have to go through the school system's re-qualification process on how to use a therapeutic hold. He will be able to return to the classroom first, however.

"He'll be recertified in the proper holding procedures very soon," Till said. "But it is not something that would keep him from being in the classroom."

The girl whose arm Bennett broke, Tacara Gunn, will no longer be in Bennett's class, Till said.

School policy says the "physical restraint of students by school personnel can be used as reasonably needed to ensure the safety of any student, school employee, volunteer or other person present to prevent self-injurious behavior."

Till said the investigation found that the school system's policy is sound.

Before the incident, the school system completed a yearlong policy review to make sure local guidelines met all requirements set by the state.

Bennett is charged with assault inflicting serious bodily injury and child abuse inflicting serious injury. The District Attorney's Office would not comment on the status of the case Thursday afternoon.

Bennett started as a custodian at Cliffdale Elementary School in 1995 after retiring as a master sergeant in the Air Force, according to records from the school system.

Later, he became a teaching assistant before getting an education degree with a focus in serious emotional-disability students, also known as SED.

Bennett taught at Young Howard Elementary School before moving to Coon Elementary in August 2001.

He could not be reached for comment Oct. 21.