RUSSELLVILLE, ARK. — An award-winning Arkansas kindergarten teacher accused of spanking an autistic 5-year-old boy is back in the classroom, and the child’s parent is wondering why stronger discipline was not meted out.
According to a police report, witnesses claimed Celia Wortham, who teaches at Dwight Elementary School in Russellville, called the 5-year-old a “bad boy” followed by an audible hit and crying, KARK-TV reported.
SCHOOL INVESTIGATION: Multiple staff told police that they heard the kindergarten teacher yell “bad boy” followed by a slap and crying. #ARnews
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The school’s principal said Wortham admitted to hitting the child, so she was sent home, the television station reported.
Corporal punishment is allowed in the school district, but not for students with autism, KARK reported.
The mother of the child, Tasheena Roper, said she was angry about the situation.
“How dare you. That’s my child, not yours,” Roper told KARK. “If you can’t control yourself in this environment, you should not be teaching.
“If you couldn’t handle him, you should have asked for help. You can’t get away with this and I’m not stopping until you pay for this.”
Roper said district officials chose to put her son into a class that is not limited to children with special needs, but claims she was promised the boy’s special education plan would be followed, KARK reported.
“The school district, the teacher herself who sat in our IEP meeting, assured us that they could handle him,” Roper told the television station. “That they could make this work. That they would have accommodations for him, and I feel like I was lied to at every turn.”
Mark Gotcher, superintendent of the Russellville School District, said he could not comment on what he called a personnel matter and privacy issue, KARK reported.
In a statement, Gotcher said the district, “is committed to ensuring the safety of all students and staff.”
Wortham received the Arkansas Farm Bureau’s 2019 Ag in the Classroom Outstanding Teacher Award in May. According to the website, Wortham graduated from the University of Louisiana-Monroe, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish, a master of arts in elementary education and a master’s degree in educational leadership.
Wortham came to Arkansas from Louisiana, where she taught first and second grade and was named Tangipahoa Parish Schools Teacher of the Year in 2018, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau website.
Through her attorney, Wortham declined to comment, KARK reported.
Roper told the television she has moved her son to another school in the district.
“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 told KARK.
Russellville police are investigating the incident, but no charges have been filed, the television station reported.