A teacher from Florida, along with two aides, was charged with first-degree aggravated child abuse for locking three children with autism in a pitch-black bathroom and taunting them with whistles.
Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said that the aggravations happened on different occasions since the teacher and her staff were trying to “punish” the kids for “misbehaving.”
Margaret Wolthers, 48, and her aides Diana LaCroix and Carolyn Madison of the Silver Sands Schools, were found to have intentionally and maliciously harmed the kids, whose ages range from eight to 10 years old.
They believed they were correcting the children’s behavior by enforcing such harsh forms of discipline.
The children were locked in the school bathroom with no lights on separate instances.
There were witnesses who said that the children were usually forced to stay in the bathroom for 90 minutes, whereby they would be screaming and crying.
If they tried to turn on the lights, the teachers would lock them up longer.
Wolthers, whose husband works with the sheriff’s office according to Newsweek, also often whistled in the ear of one boy with a low sensory threshold.
This boy constantly wore earphones as protection but the teacher aides would take it off and hold the boy’s arms down when Wolthers so that he won’t be able to cover his ears.
Most teacher aides who witnessed the kids being locked up thought it that these punishments were acceptable to the school’s guidelines.
But one teacher aide apparently had enough so she reported the abuse to the Okaloosa Sheriff’s office towards the end of last year.
Silver Sands in the Okaloosa County School District is known for its autism program for students.
Its students with autism are from three 22 years old and there are at least 170 students enrolled for this school year.
Based on the school’s brochure, the school’s curriculum supposedly complies with the Florida standards so the news of the abuse shocked the community and the parents who entrusted the school with their children.
Sheriff Ashley, however, estimated that the abuse has been going for quite some time.
In a statement, the sheriff implied that there could be other victims aside from the three kids in the reports.
School Superintendent Marcus Chambers has also been alerted of the arrests and was in the press conference with the police.
Chambers said that his district is cooperating with the investigations.
They have invited the Department of Education to evaluate the program and give its recommendations.
Chambers also said that Silver Sands School is expected to make changes to its program.
He said, however, that 99 percent of the school’s 4,000 staff are making the right decisions when it comes to serving the welfare of the students.
Meanwhile, if the teachers will be convicted for child abuse, Wolthers, LaCroix and Madison may be sent to prison for 30 years and fined $10,000 each as per the Florida statute.
The stature has a specific provision regarding confinement and seclusion, which are considered forms of child abuse.