A teacher’s aide who a third grade Cahokia student said hit him in a report is back in the classroom despite an ongoing investigation into the incident.
On Christopher Sharp’s 8th birthday on Aug. 25, he told his mother, Michelle Young, that a teacher’s aide hit him at Penniman School.
On Tuesday, the teacher’s aide returned to the same classroom.
Cahokia police have been investigating the incident. Lt. Damon Pipkens said while their end of the investigation is complete, it is still being reviewed by the St. Clair County’s State’s Attorney office.
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“That is still an ongoing investigation. I have completed my end and it has been sent to the state’s attorney office for review, but it is still an open case and has not reached a disposition,” Pipkens said.
Superintendent Art Ryan, however, said it is his understanding that Cahokia police indicated to him they would not be pressing charges against the teacher’s aide.
“We’re short-handed here and from everything I was getting from the detective, they indicated to me that they saw nothing that was realistically going to lead to charges,” Ryan said.
Pipkens, however, said, “I’m not sure where he [Ryan] would have gotten that information.”
He added that police have gathered all the facts and submitted the information to the State’s Attorney office, but noted that police do not make a determination on the case.
State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said they are requesting additional materials for the case and the amount of time the case will be reviewed for depends on when they get those materials.
When asked about the teacher’s aide return to the classroom, Kelly said the office is not involved in personnel issues at Cahokia school.
In September, Ryan said in an interview that the school would be waiting for the police investigation’s determination to decide a course of action.
“The issue is under investigation by outside agencies other than the school,” Ryan said on Sept. 6. “In these situations, especially with something this major, if the police say they’ll look into it, whatever they come up with, we will go by. If they determine nothing was going on, we’ll go from there.”
St. Clair County Regional Schools Superintendent Susan Sarfaty said in the case of a staff member being investigated, it is ultimately up to the district to decide when the staff member returns to work.
“The district can do their own investigation and it’s going to be the district decision as to when that teacher comes back,” Sarfaty said. “It really is a district decision. They’re not going to have a clear-cut policy because each incident is very specific.”
Since the teacher’s aide returned to school, Young has been keeping her son home from school.
“I fear to send my child to school and no parent should feel like that,” Young said. “I can choose to send my child to school with this teacher or I can keep him home where I’ll be put in jail for truancy. So at this point I don’t know what to do.”
When asked about Young keeping Christopher home from school, Ryan said it was her decision.
“Parents make their choices about their kids. That’s part of the law, it’s not our rules. She’s going to have to decide what to do,” he said.
Young said no one informed her the teacher’s aide would be returning to school and was told by Penniman’s principal, Wendy Lange, that the school cannot move Christopher to another classroom.
“I told them I need him to be put in another classroom and they said there is not another classroom there for him and the teacher’s aide will not be removed,” she said. “They said they can make sure that he’s not alone with my son, but you can’t promise me that.”
When asked about whether or not Christopher was in the same classroom as the teacher’s aide, Ryan said he is not at liberty to discuss the matter – citing school policy on students’ privacy.
Christopher is in third-grade at Penniman School.
Young said she has to send her son to Penniman because it is the only elementary school near her with a behavioral class, which Christopher needs due to an attention-deficit disorder.
On Aug. 25, Christopher told his mother that he was walking from one building to another after eating breakfast that morning when he ran into the bathroom. The teacher’s aide for his class chased after him into the bathroom, turned off the light and hit him open-handed on his left side by his hip, the boy said.
According to a police report, Christopher told the DCFS agent that at the end of the day as he was getting on the bus, the aide approached Christopher and told him if he didn’t tell anyone about what had happened, he would buy him a gift when he returned to school.
Young took her son to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, where Christopher was treated for a hip abrasion, and called Cahokia Police.
Cahokia police officer Shawn Hunt went to Young’s home Aug. 28, according to the police report. Hunt took photos of the child’s injury, describing it as a “red-in-color-bruise approximately 2 inches in length.” Young signed a Children’s Hospital medical release form and gave Hunt documents from Cardinal Glennon.
Cahokia police said the investigation is waiting on paperwork from the Department of Children and Family Services to fully review the case.