Published: November 20, 2009
TAMPA - The mother of a special needs student says a Lockhart Elementary teacher's aide left her son in the school's timeout room last year for nearly four hours.
The aide went home and forgot about the 9-year-old boy, who sat alone in the dark on the floor of a windowless 3-foot by 5-foot room before a janitor freed him, his mother said. His pants were soaked in urine.
More than a year later, he still struggles with the experience, his mother said.
"He's not the same child," she said today from her home.
Her lawyer has notified the district of a potential lawsuit.
In a letter dated Sept. 11, attorney Eric Frommer alleges school officials committed "discriminatory and tortuous acts" against the boy.
"It's more than neglect," Frommer said today. "It's abuse. It's emotional abuse."
The district did not investigate the March 2008 incident, schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said today. Neither the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office nor Tampa Police Department could find any documents concerning the incident.
In his letter of intent to sue, Frommer names teacher's aide Deloris Gainey, 52, who worked for the district for nine years before her arrest last year on charges of purchasing and possessing marijuana a few blocks from the school.
Gainey was suspended without pay in January 2009 and entered into a pre-trial intervention program with the county, Cobbe said. The district fired her July 15.
Her personnel records were not available today and she could not be reached for comment.
Cobbe would not comment on the timeout rooms except to describe some as closets where students keep their coats and lunchboxes. She refused The Tampa Tribune and News Channel 8 access to one.
The boy's mother said children had to remove their shoes before going into the room at Lockhart, which she said was empty and smelled like urine. There was no bathroom or window. The door wasn't supposed to be locked, she said, but there was a magnet that prevented the door from being opened from the inside.
The teacher's aide placed the boy in the room because he wouldn't do his school work, his mother said.Frommer said his client, who is not being named by the Tribune to protect her son's identity, is not looking for a "windfall," but help in providing her son with therapy.
He's 11 now, a sixth-grader at another school who acts out in class and has been suspended frequently, his mother said.
"He doesn't know how to fix himself," she said.
Adding to his troubled emotional state is an alleged rape in 2003 by another student at Ippolito Elementary. No criminal charges were filed in that case, but the district settled with the mother out of court in January. The terms and amount of that settlement are confidential.
Cobbe could not provide any information about that incident.
But the alleged rape and being shut in a "closet" certainly is something that has shaped the boy's life, Frommer said.
"It's just his first years of school," the attorney said. "So here they've traumatized him twice."
Researcher Buddy Jaudon contributed to this report. Reporter Sherri Ackerman can be reached at (813) 259-7144.