Gaston Co. teacher arrest reveals larger problem in district, parents say

Gaston Co. teacher arrest reveals larger problem in district, parents say

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Channel 9 has spent days digging into the accusations against a teacher who is charged with assaulting special needs students at McAdenville Elementary school in Gaston County.

Channel 9 reporter Mark Barber talked to parents Wednesday who said the alarming case reveals a larger problem within the district. Some said they have been fighting all year for fair treatment of students with disabilities.

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Nearly half a dozen parents told Channel 9 that they are pulling their children out of the district's schools because they don't think school leaders are concerned about the district's most vulnerable students.

Penny Barker, a special needs teacher at McAdenville Elementary, was arrested after she was accused of hitting her students with her hands and a pointer.

While she has been suspended, she is still being paid. Some parents worry that the district is protecting its teachers before its students.

(Penny Barker)

Ashley Cody said that her  7-year-old student at McAdenville Elementary was attacked in February by an older student on the bus. She said the student ripped a hearing aid out of her son's ear, shook his head and then slammed his head into the window.

The principal told her that the issue had been addressed, but the attacker wasn't actually kicked off her son's bus for good until she took action, according to Cody.

"It took 56 hours of paperwork, two lawyers to get the information that I needed," she said.

Cody believes her son was targeted because he has a disability. She said the assault has damaged his attitude and has even made him fearful to attend school.

"It leaves me feeling pretty much helpless," Cody said.

Channel 9 asked the superintendent if he would respond to concerns that the issue was handled improperly. Instead, communications officer Todd Hagans responded, saying in part, "We have been responsive in meeting with the parents, listening to their concerns and taking steps to address any issues."

Angela Mathis, whose daughter attends Southwest Middle said, "My daughter has ADHD, bipolar, I don't trust the school with my daughter."

She and other worried parents are pushing administrators for answers after a teacher at the school was suspended in March. Their concerns are growing without any resolution because they say the district isn't telling them why their students' teacher was suspended.

"If what I've heard is true, then children were potentially endangered, and the fact that the school district wouldn't even address that with parents is very upsetting," said Bridget Patterson, a mother of a child with autism.

Hagans responded for Gaston County Schools, saying in part, "With any personnel issue, we are limited (because of privacy rules) in releasing information to parents, the public and the media. We do not believe any children are at risk."

Concerned parents said that they won't be satisfied with the response from Gaston County Schools until something changes. They told Channel 9 that they aren't asking for special treatment for their children with special needs, they just want fair treatment.

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