ISELIN, N.J. — A teacher in the South Orange-Maplewood School District was suspended late last month after she allegedly held a 4-year-old student with autism upside down by his ankles and shook him, according to the child’s family.
“This baby has bruises everywhere. It seems like she was fighting this kid,” said Candie Wilkins, the child’s grandmother.
In a statement, Superintendent Ronald Taylor said the district is “cooperating with the appropriate authorities,” but that they would not comment further due to confidentiality concerns.
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The incident allegedly occurred about five minutes before the 2:30 p.m. dismissal on March 27 in a pre-kindergarten classroom at Montrose Early Childhood Center, Wilkins said.
The class had been merged with another and there was an aide and other teachers present, one of whom intervened and said, “I have it from here,” according to Wilkins. The same teacher reported the alleged abuse to her supervisor at 8:30 a.m. the next day, Wilkins said.
“There were six teachers altogether in this classroom with my grandson. One did the abuse, one came forward and four others watched,” she said.
Wilkins said even though the incident occurred on a Monday, the family was not notified until about 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, when the child’s mother, Devena Wilkins, received a call from the school principal.
“The principal informed my daughter that the teacher was suspended, and we told her how (the child) had started shaking in his sleep and we didn’t know what was wrong with him,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins said her grandson only started speaking about 18 months ago and has trouble forming sentences.
Family members rushed the child to Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston and called his pediatrician, who then called the hospital and spoke with doctors.
In addition to being held upside down, the family said the child had bruises on his arms and leg, a cut inside his nostril and a knot on the side of his forehead.
Wilkins said family members removed the child’s belongings from Montrose school and are planning to enroll him elsewhere, demanding that the district cover expenses.
“I want justice for my grandson because he’s autistic. He cannot speak,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins said the family is also upset because district administrators have not reached out to them.
“We have not heard from anyone but the principal,” she said. “We have not heard from the board of education, the superintendent or anyone.”
Wilkins said Samuels called the state’s division of Child Protection and Permanency, which sent investigators to the boy’s home to speak with him and his family. Wilkins said the family has also been in touch with local police.
“The teachers that were involved need to be dismissed and no longer need to work with children because they saw this, they allowed it and did not report it,” Wilkins said.
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