Teacher accused of spanking autistic 5-year-old

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RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — A Russellville Elementary teacher accused of spanking a special needs student is back in the classroom, leaving the boy’s family trying to make sure this isn’t treated as a slap on the wrist.

Corporal punishment is allowed in the district, but not on students with autism. A recently passed state law also protects students with an “intellectual disability” from being spanked at school.

Knowing that, Tasheena Roper says she can’t understand why her 5-year-old son Kemauri was hit by his kindergarten teacher at Dwight Elementary, and why that teacher got to go back to school.

“How dare you, that’s my child not yours,” Roper said. “If you can’t control yourself in this environment, you should not be teaching.”

According to a police report and witness statements, multiple staff claim they heard Celia Wortham call Kemauri a “bad boy,” followed by an audible hit, and crying. In a statement to police the school principal says Worthman admitted to the hit, so she was sent home.

“If you couldn’t handle him, you should have asked for help,” Roper said. “You can’t get away with this and I’m not stopping until you pay for this.”

Roper says the district chose to put her son in an integrated classroom, that’s not just for special needs students. She claims before the school year she was promised her son’s special education plan would be followed, but says that fell short.

“The school district, the teacher herself who sat in our IEP meeting, assured us that they could handle him. That they could make this work. That they would have accommodations for him, and I feel like I was lied to at every turn,” she said.

The school district says it can’t comment on what happened, calling it not only a personnel issue but a privacy concern for the student. Superintendent Mark Gotcher sent the following statement:

Russellville School District is committed to ensuring the safety of all students and staff.
All parties involved have legal representation and the district is unable to comment on this personnel and student matter at this time.

Worthman also declined to comment. Her attorney saying in an e-mail, :my client has no comment at this time. In addition, our law firm policy is that we do not comment on pending litigation.”

Since the alleged spanking, Roper says her son was moved to another school in the district. She’s now trying to plan next steps, saying her first focus is to make sure Kemauri is getting what the instruction he needs in the classroom.

“They broke his trust as well as mine, I don’t trust the school system anymore, I don’t know who else is going to do what else to him,” Roper said.

Russellville Police are investigating the incident, but no charges have been filed.

DHS also opened an investigation.

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