Parents file complaint after paddling

Published 10:35 pm Saturday, January 31, 2015

An investigation into a Jan. 21 corporal punishment incident at Valley Grande Elementary School concluded Friday.

Dallas County Superintendent of Education Don Willingham said after a Valley Grande sixth grader disturbed class by chewing gum and talking, he was instructed to take a note home to his parents that described the situation, have them sign it and return it to the teacher.

Willingham said the student threw the note away instead and was paddled after the school requested permission from his mother.

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The paddling resulted in a bruise on his leg and prompted the student’s mother, Mandy Anderson, to file a complaint with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.

“That was use of excessive force and that does not fall under corporal punishment laws,” Anderson said. “I want something done so that this does not happen to another child.”

According to Anderson’s account, she received a call from Valley Grande Elementary principal Erika Crum on Wednesday, Jan. 21, informing her that her son had thrown away a note intended for his parents.

The mother informed the teacher that she signed the corporal punishment agreement at the beginning of the school year, giving the school permission to paddle her child in place of a suspension.

According to Willingham, corporal punishment is always a last resort in his school system when a parent allows it.

With Crum as a witness, the teacher, whose name has not been released, paddled the student around noon, Willingham said.

“[During the second swing], the boy jumped and kind of turned, and it hit more on the thigh area,” Willingham said. “It was supposed to hit him on the rear. I’m sorry the child got hurt, but I do think the action occurred when the child jumped.”

The sixth grader said about an hour later he was sore, according to statements Willingham received from school employees. He was then taken to the school nurse, who applied ice to his bruise.

Anderson said the school nurse informed her that the paddling left marks on the child, and she picked him up at the end of the school day. Anderson said her son limped to the car, mentioned that he was sore and avoided putting pressure on his right leg.

When they arrived home, Anderson examined the area where her child had been paddled and discovered a bruise on his leg.

It was then that she went from being upset with her son to “irate” about how harsh the teacher paddled him.

Anderson said her son told her that he had been hit on his leg twice.

She checked his rear end thinking that if he had been hit on his bottom at all, it would be evident through markings.

The mother said she discovered none.

Anderson informed the school that she disapproved and was told that the principal had left for the day, but would be notified the next day. That afternoon, she took her child to the doctor for medical attention and filed a report with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.

Willingham said the department informed him the same day about the incident. The superintendent contacted Crum to begin the internal investigation, which concluded Monday.

The superintendent said he feels as if the Dallas County School System handled everything correctly when conducting the internal investigation.

“We never put [the teacher] on leave,” Willingham said. “We just made sure that nobody was going to be paddled by him or any other teacher until this was resolved.”

Chief Deputy Randy Pugh, of the Dallas County Sheriff’s office said his department investigated the incident from Jan. 21 up until Friday afternoon.

“There was no criminal intent there to assault or cause harm, so that’s what we revealed to the [district attorney],” Pugh said.

District Attorney Michael Jackson said he would only pursue the case if the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department found any evidence that would lead him to believe it was serious enough to pursue. As of Friday, Jackson said he has not made any plans to do so.

Willingham said the negative publicity surrounding the incident has made the system reconsider corporal punishment as an option at Valley Grande Elementary.

“We just kind of decided, and Crum preferred, not to have paddling as an option now that it caused negative publicity that was probably undeserved,” Willingham said.

“It just wasn’t worth it, so we’ve taken that off as an option. Whether it comes back next year, we’ll just have to talk about it.”

Since the school system, sheriff’s department, and district attorney are not taking any action against the teacher, Anderson said she is looking to hire an attorney outside of the area to handle her case.

Crum declined to comment when contacted Friday.