Wednesday, May 20, 2009

VA: Loundoun County Public Schools Teacher Placed on Administrative Leave

Loudoun County Public Schools special education teacher has been placed on
administrative leave after national media coverage of a 2002 incident in which
she is alleged to have suffocated a student while teaching in Texas.

Dawn Marie Hamilton, who teaches at Park View High School, was not criminally
charged in the death of 14-year-old Cedric Napoleon. The student died after
Hamilton held the student on the ground, laying her body on top of him after the
student refused to remain in his seat. Although Hamilton was not indicted by a
grand jury after Cedric's death, an administrative judge placed her name on a
state registry of individuals found to have abused or neglected children after
finding that she used "excessive and unnecessary force" in restraining the

According to Loudoun County Public School administrators, neither the incident
nor the state registry listing was noted on background checks that School Board
policy requires to be completed on new hires.

Schools spokesman Wayde Byard said the school system had never seen the Texas
registry, and that Hamilton had passed FBI and Child Protective Services
background checks the school system performs on employees.

Byard added that Hamilton's last employment reference, Rock Creek Academy in
Washington, DC, "came back clean" as well.

Hamilton was placed on administrative leave while school staff reviews her
personnel records to "determine her employment status."

Under the school system's procedures, all employees are to be asked during the
hiring process if investigations by any government agency on allegations of
child abuse have found the allegations to be valid, Byard said. Since Hamilton
was never indicted by a grand jury, she could "hypothetically answer 'no' to
that question," he said.

Cedric's foster mother Tricia Price testified this week in a Government
Accountability Office congressional hearing on restraining schoolchildren that
revealed hundreds of cases of children allegedly improperly held, bound or
placed in isolation. It was GAO investigators who reported Hamilton to the state
department of education, which in turn informed the Loudoun school system.

"If that teacher was just doing her job," Price said in her testimony, "then
something is very wrong with the system."

Mark Kealey, assistant superintendent of pupil services for the school system,
said while no School Board policies covering restraining students exist, Loudoun
adheres to the Virginia Department of Education guidelines for special education
programs, which exceeds the federal guidelines in more than 100 areas.

Kealey said teachers in Loudoun "absolutely" do not use the kind of restraint
Hamilton used on Cedric. Teachers are trained in the Mandt system, she said,
which emphasizes "de-escalation" of crisis situations through communication.

"We want situations where [teachers] don't have to put their hands on students,"
Kealey said. Teachers never use seclusion techniques and restraining students is
not recommended, but some options are available during emergency situations, he

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