An A. Brian Merry Elementary School paraprofessional was fired Jan. 9 for grabbing a 5-year-old special-needs pupil and slapping him across the face during lunchtime before the winter break.
According to a termination letter from Superintendent Frank Roberson, a witness saw Sharla Tomberlin talking to one of her pupils during lunch about his behavior “on or about Dec. 12.” The date of the incident was later determined to be Dec. 17.
When the kindergartner became upset and started yelling, Tomberlin grabbed his face, placed her face close to his and told him to “quit yelling at (her).” When the pupil continued, Tomberlin told the boy “I am not your mama” and slapped him across the face, according to Roberson’s letter.
“While students may become defiant and need redirecting, your actions were neither suitable nor justified under any reasonable circumstance,” Roberson wrote. “While (the pupil) may have acted inappropriately, you should have asked for assistance from a colleague or and administrator. The misconduct of a student does not excuse you, as an adult, from remaining calm, professional and personally detached.”
In a statement, Tomberlin admitted to hitting the pupil in the mouth, “but not very hard.”
The pupil’s father said officials did not notify him about the incident when it occurred, and he didn’t find out until his son came home from school and told his mother.
According to an e-mail sent to central office officials at 7:08 p.m. Dec. 17, Principal Elizabeth Schad said she called “the parent” after school about the incident. The parent told Schad her son already had informed her about the incident when he got off the school bus, according to the e-mail.
Schad also wrote that Tomberlin was assigned to a different classroom while the investigation was being completed, “in fairness to the child and the (paraprofessional).”
The pupil’s father said he was alarmed that officials did not contact him before the school day was over and allowed Tomberlin to remain with his child that day.
He also said the School Safety and Security Department should have started its investigation that afternoon, rather than waiting until the following day. Schad’s e-mail indicates she questioned witnesses and Tomberlin that afternoon before contacting school safety officials.
“They never notified me that the incident happened,” said the father, who has transferred his child to another school. “If my son wouldn’t have said anything about that, I guarantee Ms. Tomberlin would still be at A. Brian Merry Elementary.”
He also said he has looked into filing charges against Tomberlin and will be meeting with Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree for guidance.
“I was more hurt about the situation than anything, especially when you have a young parent coming up there that wants to be involved with his school, wants to be involved with his kids and wants to work with them.”
According to a statement from Roberson, Schad “immediately contacted the Central Office” to request an investigation. The school system was closed for the holidays from Dec. 19 to Jan. 2, and Tomberlin was fired Jan. 9 when the investigation was completed.
Richmond County Board of Education President Venus Cain said she believes the incident was handled correctly but was saddened by the actions of the educator.
“I don’t know why it happened, but it’s a sad day when you’re supposed to care about children,” she said. “I know sometimes these children push buttons, and I know as adults we all have issues, but no matter what we have going on in our lives, we have to maintain our composure while dealing with a child.”