Two teachers charged with abusing special-education student
Two Macomber Elementary School teachers face charges they physically abused a special education student.
Teacher Renee Rego, 47, of 91 Horton St., Fall River, Mass., is being charged with a single count of caretaker who permits or commits an assault and battery, and mistreatment or neglect on a disabled person. Assistant teacher Linda Liberty, 46, of 9 Sylvania St., Westport, Mass., is facing two counts of simple assault and battery on a mentally retarded child. All three charges are felonies.
Both women have been scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 5 in Fall River for their arraignments.
Superintendent Linda Galton offered few comments on the matter, but did say both women are still teaching at the Macomber School and will continue to do so unless further allegations should lead to their removal.
“At this time we have completed our investigation, and the staff remains in place,” Galton said.
“Whenever issues like this are brought to our attention we take them very seriously and investigate and make assessments, and we have done that.”
Westport Police Department spokesman Sgt. Jeffrey Majewski, in a brief statement before referring comments to the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office, said the investigation was thorough and justified the bringing up the charges.
District Attorney’s Office spokesman Gregg Miliote said that office will pick up where the Westport police left off.
“We are investigating this alleged incident, and once they’re in for arraignment we can proceed with the case,” Miliote said.
In the meantime, the father of the child — whose identity is being withheld by The Herald News to protect the identity of the child — is keeping his child out of school.
“My son is not returning until those teachers are removed, but I’m told they are not taking any disciplinary action” the father said. “I’m concerned for his emotional well-being in the classroom and I fear of him getting some kind of action put on him for doing something wrong. My son is autistic, he can’t come home and say ‘Daddy my teachers hurt me.’”
The father said a meeting has been scheduled with School Department officials to take place this morning, though, he was not sure who would be in attendance. He said he is not yet sure if his family will take any legal action against the school or teachers.
For now, though, the father is not happy with the way this matter has been handled.
“I feel that we’ve been left totally in the dark and ignored,” he said. “I’m chasing them (school officials) and it’s almost like from their point of view that it’s not a big thing and we should just let it go. They have no sense of urgency. ... I would expect the school to be more willing to fix this than to say there’s nothing wrong here.”
According to a police report filed in District Court by Westport Police, Jill Alberto, a substitute teacher employed in a special education classroom Jan. 8 and 9, witnessed the two teachers participate in what the report described as “disturbing events.”
During the course of the two days, Alberto said she observed Liberty stepping on the feet of a student who kept removing his shoes due to sensory issues related to the child’s disability.
“Ms. Alberto explained that she witnessed Ms. Liberty step on (the child’s) feet at least ‘twenty times’ during both days while she was wearing sneakers on her feet,” the report penned by Majewski reads. “Ms. Alberto told me that (the child) was visibly in pain while Ms. Liberty was stepping on his feet.”
Alberto alleged that Rego forced the child to go over to the class fish tank and feed the fish even though the child has an aversion to water.
The allegations also include a paraprofessional reporting that she witnessed Liberty grabbing the same student by the arm as the he exited a bathroom. Lucy Cordeiro told police Liberty pulled the child “so forcefully that she ‘thought it had the possibility of dislocating his shoulder.”
The report continues to state that “Ms. Liberty looked mad when she grabbed and pulled (the child).”
According to the report, the child’s parents were told his shoes were taken off because the child had food on his feet and that the staff didn’t put his shoes back on because the child thought it was funny.
Rego also told police that one of the strategies to keep the child from removing his shoes was to “go over to him and ‘tap his feet with their feet.’” However, the child’s mother told police that the foot tapping was not part of the student’s individual education plan.
In regard to the bathroom incident, Liberty, according to the police report, said the child had begun to run and she simply put her arm up to stop him from getting away.
Under a later round of questioning, however, Cordeiro, according to the report, said the child “was not doing anything wrong” when the child turned his head and Liberty “grabbed his arm and pulled him hard.” After further questioning about whether the incident could have been as Liberty described it, Cordeiro continued to deny that could be the case.
“Ms. Cordeiro was adamant that was not the case and that there was no need to grab and pull (the child) the way Liberty had done,” the report states.
Alberto also accused Rego of placing her fingers in a jar of peanut butter and then proceeding to put them in the mouth of another child.
The report states that Alberto said this caused the child discomfort and resulted in a lot of peanut butter in and around the child’s mouth and that the tactic was done right after the child had acted out in class. Alberto said in the report that this was done as a form of punishment because the child had eating issues and basically required food be in a pureed form.
According to the police report, police were stonewalled by Westport school officials.
The report indicates that the parents of one child had spoken with Special Education Coordinator Ralph Tripp III and were told by him that he was unaware of any allegations, only for the parents to then learn that a meeting between Tripp, Principal Sue Wilkinson and Galton had taken place the previous day.
Both Galton and Tripp responded that they were at the school on an unrelated matter.
During initial questioning during a phone conversation, Tripp allegedly told police he was not going to comment on the matter.
“With no disrespect, I am not going to speak with you any further about this,” Tripp told police, the report states.
Galton also told Majewski that she had filed a complaint with Town Administrator Michael Coughlin because the police chief had not notified her of the investigation. In that conversation, Galton told Majewski that the School Department had conducted its own investigation and determined there was no wrongdoing.
Galton would not comment Thursday about allegations of School Department officials refusing to cooperate with police.
E-mail Herald News writer Will Richmond at firstname.lastname@example.org.