Three Florida staffers at a school for special needs were placed on leave and arrested for allegedly tormenting children with autism.
A teacher and two aides allegedly punished several students by locking them in a dark bathroom at Silver Sands School in Okaloosa County. According to Okaloosa Sheriff Larry Ashley, the abuse had been “going on for some time” — from September 1 to November 14.
The victims are between the ages of 8 and 10. Ashley said that if they got out of hand, teacher Margaret Wolthers, 48, and two classroom aides, Diana LaCroix, 52, and Carolyn Madison, 47, would discipline the students through threats. Ashley told reporters:
“It was learned that Wolthers, Madison and LaCroix were placing three autistic children…into a pitch-black classroom bathroom for punishment.
There was no supervision in the bathroom at the time. One student, per the witness, was held for 90 minutes. The other two students were held for an unreasonable amounts of time.”
There were times the district employees would allegedly “intentionally and maliciously” blow a loud whistle in the children’s ear as a punishment to threaten them into obedience. One of the students wore earphones to protect him from loud noises, reports the Miami Herald.
Ashley said there were plenty of times they could have notified the school’s principal or staff members for behavior that was difficult to manage. He explained:
“Likewise, holding a student captive while blowing a whistle in their ear is not an acceptable form of discipline or proper protocol of correcting this behavior.”
Eventually, two other employees at the school reported their colleagues to a school resource officer. He contacted an abuse hotline “sparking an investigation,” reports Newsweek.
Silver Sands Superintendent Marcus Chambers told the Daily Beast that the district is working to improve special needs training. He said:
“We need to do even better.”
The three employees were charged on Monday with abusing children with autism. They’re suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.
Watch the press conference below: