Wednesday, October 28, 2009

WI: Teacher accused of hitting student to appear in court

October 26, 2009

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RACINE - A former special education teacher accused of hitting an autistic student will make her initial appearance in court this week, four months after the boy's mother made the allegations.

Rebecca F. Pranghofer, who was terminated by the Racine Unified School District earlier this month, is charged with two counts of violating the state's corporal punishment law for allegedly slapping the 12-year-old during a field trip to Downtown Racine in June.

Pranghofer is not facing criminal charges, according to the Racine County District Attorney's office. The state forfeiture action is a civil matter, like a speeding ticket, according to District Attorney Mike Nieskes.

Any penalty would not include any jail time, Nieskes said, but could include a fine. Pranghofer will appear in court Friday morning.

"The people who appear we sometimes negotiate a resolution with. If they don't show, they're forfeited," Nieskes said.

Unified officials conducted a separate investigation into the allegations and held an internal hearing involving Pranghofer, district and union officials.

The Unified School Board on Oct. 6 officially fired Pranghofer based on the recommendations from the internal hearing, according to a district spokesman.

District officials in June had placed Pranghofer on paid administrative leave from Jerstad-Agerholm Middle School, 3601 LaSalle St., after the student's mother filed charges against her.

Pranghofer had been a special education teacher at the school since 2003. She had worked in the district since 1987, according to district officials.

In addition to autism, the student is mostly non-verbal, can be aggressive and needs a one-on-one assistant. He also struggles with a number of other health issues.

At the time of the alleged incident, his mother filed a police report after meeting with school officials about the allegations.

At the time of the incident, the mother said an assistant teacher in the classroom, one of four teachers who attended the field trip, had called district officials to report that he witnessed the teacher slap the child on the face.

The mother said she heard about the alleged incident from her other son who also attended the school.

State law prohibits any kind of corporal punishment, which, according to the state's definition, includes, but is not limited to, paddling, slapping or prolonged maintenance of physically painful positions when used as a means of discipline.

In August, the state Department of Public Instruction launched an investigation into the status of Pranghofer's teaching license, according to an agency spokesman.

The investigation is ongoing and could result in the state revoking Pranghofer's teaching license.

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