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Allegations say pre-K teacher locked kids in closet or bathroom

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 6:38 PM
Last updated Wednesday, April 3, 2013 1:12 AM
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A Copeland Elementary School pre-kindergarten teacher was assigned to a temporary position in the Transportation Department last month after allegations that she locked two pupils in a closet or restroom and shut off the lights as punishment for misbehavior.

Francine Wynn, a 29-year veteran teacher, denied one of those instances, but witnesses confirmed seeing her place that pupil into the closet in February and hearing him scream to get out, according to a letter of reprimand from Superintendent Frank Roberson.

Roberson said he and his staff considered firing Wynn but accepted her retirement, effective May 31.

Chief Human Resources Officer Norman Hill said Wynn was immediately removed from the classroom after the incident and placed into the Title 1 department pending the results of the investigation. In March, she was transferred to transportation to assist with “whatever needs” the department has and is not in contact with children.

The mother of one of the pupils met with Copeland Principal Kimberly Davis on Feb. 13 and said her son told her Wynn had “locked him in the closet and in the restroom, cut the lights off and thumped him on his hand because he had been bad,” according to Roberson’s letter.

During this time, Davis received a phone call from a Copeland paraprofessional stating Wynn had put another student into the restroom with the lights off.

Davis went to the room and found a student in the restroom, sitting on a stool and crying in the dark.

According to Roberson’s letter, Wynn said she placed him in the restroom and turned off the lights because the pupil was playing with his toys.

The pupil said he had been in the restroom “for a long time and he was afraid of the dark,” the letter said.

Wynn denied placing the first student into a closet or restroom but said she placed him near the front closet to block him from view of the class after he made excessive noise.

Wynn said that she took the second pupil to the restroom after he refused to listen to instructions and threw a crayon box at her, according to the letter.

She directed him to sit on the stool and think about his behavior, and the pupil stayed there and played with the lights, Wynn said.

According to Roberson’s letter, other pupils and staffers were interviewed. They confirmed seeing the first pupil placed into the closet/bathroom and the second student into the bathroom.

“This is not acceptable,” Roberson wrote. “While you are expected to address student misbehavior, you are to correct their behavior in appropriate methods or redirection and model appropriate behavior.”

Richmond County Board of Education attorney Pete
Fletcher requested the Geor­gia Professional Standards Commission investigate the matter in case the Standards of Code of Ethics of Education were not followed.

The parent of the first student reported her son has wet the bed, had nightmares, is afraid of the dark and has missed many days of school because of the incidents.

Roberson said that although it is debatable whether the change in behavior is related to Wynn’s actions, it is clear she “should not have placed him in any closet, cupboard or bathroom for discipline purposes.”

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