KELSO, Wash. -- The Kelso School District is investigating claims that one of its teachers shoved and used excessive force against a 7-year-old student.
The boy, named Mark Slagle, is a special education student at Wallace Elementary School. According to Mark’s mom, he said the teacher pushed him so hard that he fell to the ground and bruised one of his ribs.
LeAnn Slagle says the incident happened on Sept. 18. She was at Wallace to pick up her son when she received a text from Mark’s case manager, a special education teacher at the school.
“I had received a text saying, ‘Uh oh, our little guy. The volcano has erupted.’”
The case manager was referring to a tantrum that Mark was having. Slagle says that Mark has learning disabilities and a behavior disorder. Because of that, he can be prone to outbursts at times in class.
During this tantrum, though, Slagle alleges that one of Mark’s special education teachers went way out of line.
KGW is not naming the teacher because that person is not charged with a crime. According to Mark, the teacher allegedly shoved him from behind in order to get him to stay in a “quiet room.” Both Slagle and district staff described the room as being separate from the main classroom. The room serves as a way to isolate students having outbursts, allowing them to hopefully calm down.
“Mark was screaming, hitting the windows saying that he was hurt. ‘She hurt me,’” says Slagle in regards to what she saw when she arrived at school to pick up Mark.
Mark says the shove from the teacher caused him to fall over and slide on the ground. Two days later, a visit to the doctor would reveal bruising on one of Mark’s ribs.
“Mind you, he’s 87 pounds,” Slagle said of her son. “So the amount of force it would take to push a 7-year-old child down like that, where he has contusions to his ribs, is quite a bit.”
Slagle adds that the teacher seemed unapologetic about the situation.
“I asked her why she would shove a kid to the floor – any child for that matter. And she just shrugged her shoulders and put her palms up,” Slagle said.
“It’s unfortunate. But we have to get better,” said Judah Rister, a special education teacher who serves as Mark’s case manager.
Rister was nearby when the incident happened, but didn’t witness the alleged shove. He says any kind of forceful shove goes against what special educators in the Kelso district were taught in terms of how to handle students having dangerous outbursts.
“We’re going to block kids from damaging ourselves or others. That’s part of the technique,” Rister said. “But any kind of pushing, that’s not necessarily part of it.”
Rister added that he’s voiced concerns to the district about the use of restraint practices on special education students before. He said district leaders have been somewhat responsive and are “doing what they can to make things better.”
In a statement to KGW, Kelso Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich confirmed that the district was aware of the allegations.
“Student safety is always our foremost concern and, therefore, the matter is being investigated,” wrote Gelbrich. “The results of the investigation will determine our next steps in this matter. The investigation is in process, so it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
Gelbrich did confirm that the teacher in question was still at the school, but was ordered not to have any contact with Mark.
“Why was she not suspended afterwards? Why is she still around my son?” Slagle questioned. “She abused my son. And I believe that she was angry and used excessive force because of her frustration.”
Slagle also filed a report with the Kelso Police Department. KPD confirmed that they had received Slagle’s report, but hadn’t started an investigation yet due to previous caseloads and staffing issues.