Sunday, November 15, 2009

SC: Deciding the Fate of Charged School Officials

November 12, 2009

Dorchester County, SC - Some Dorchester District Two principals and teachers are accused of covering up child abuse at Knightsville Elementary.

Heather Martin, 38, is a teaching assistant who worked with special education students. She is charged with nine felony counts of unlawful conduct towards a child. 38-year-old Rebecca Piersol-Crosby is a lead special education teacher. She is charged with three felony counts of unlawful conduct towards a child and four counts of misprision of a felony.

While, 47-year-old Assistant Principal Mary Rita Watson and 42-year-old Principal Anita Ruff-Putillion were charged with one count of failure to report child abuse.

Knightsville Elementary is a small school rocked by big accusations. The allegations are shocking to Knightsville parent Kristy Greenwood. Her son Bryce is in the first grade.

"It's scaring me a lot. When I first heard about it, I thought it was mild and blown out of proportion. This is just heartbreaking," Greenwood said.

Investigators say the abuse began in August. Heather Martin is accused of grabbing one of her autistic students and dragging him by the hair. She's also accused of covering another students nose and mouth of long periods of time.

"I wish someone would have told us what happened," said Greenwood.

Greenwood knows firsthand how challenging working with autistic children can be because her son Bryce is being evaluated for Asperger Syndrome.

"They have a lot of trouble communicating what is going on in their minds. If you aren't a patient person, it can get frustrating very quickly," Greenwood explained.

State law mandates that school officials report suspected abuse. Investigators say that wasn't done in the case at Knightsville Elementary and that is why the principal and assistant principal were also charged.

"We're talking about children who dont have a voice for themselves," Evelyn Turner with the Charleston Disabilities Board said. "If anyone suspects abuse and doesn't report it, they're not protecting children."

Greenwood is concerned about her son's safety and wants to know how the district will handle the situation. All of the women except Heather Martin have been reassigned to other schools in the district.

Piersol-Crosby is working in the districts special services department. Watson was reassigned to Oakbrook Elementary and Putillion is at Beech Hill Elementary. A district spokesperson says Heather Martin no longer works for the district.

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