St. Louis police said at least four preschoolers, ages 4 and 5, were allegedly forced to remove all of their clothes and stand naked in a closet for up to ten minutes as a punishment for misbehaving.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Police Chief Kevin Schmoll told KMOV:
“Children would misbehave in class and the teacher would have them disrobe and stand them, make them stand inside a closet for five or 10 minutes as their discipline. Then they would redress and join the class.”
The students were part of an East St. Louis Head Start program operated by Southern Illinois University at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center.
The department said four of 20 students were victims of the cruel classroom treatment that began in early February.
The alleged abuse was finally exposed on Thursday morning after a parent complained to the program after hearing stories about the punishment from her son, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Police Chief Kevin Schmoll said the unnamed teachers, aged 26 and 41, admitted to investigators that nudity was used to discipline students.
The 26-year-old teacher behind the punishment has been with the program for about three years. The other teacher, with five years of experience, witnessed the disciplinary technique but didn’t report the incident to authorities. Schmoll said:
“The little boy who first reported it was very brave for coming forward. That is how we were able to discover this in the first place.
We are continuing to interview students, so there may be more victims we don’t know about yet.”
The Head Start program sent a letter home to parents explaining the “child safety violation” allegations. Parents in the community are outraged, Lakysha Jeffries told KMOV:
“I can’t believe they would let something like this go on.”
The program stated in the letter:
Under no circumstances does the program condone or tolerate inappropriate treatment towards children, family or staff.
The two staff members were placed on administrative leave this week.
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