Lawsuit filed year after teacher accused of putting student with autism in trash can

IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. — A mother is now suing Iredell-Statesville Schools more than a year after police charged her son’s teacher with assault.

In 2019, police reported that the teacher, Robin Johnson, put the 9-year-old in a trash can multiple times. The 51-year-old was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault on a handicapped person.

At the time, deputies said they received a report from a therapist who had spoken with several students at Cloverleaf Elementary School. Multiple children had reported being picked up and put in a trash can or recycling bin.

Investigators said the assaults happened during the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years when Johnson was the teacher assigned to the exceptional classroom at Cloverleaf.

According to deputies, the evidence showed Johnson put a student with disabilities in the trash can at least twice.

Johnson, along with the Iredell-Statesville School District Board of Education, Superintendent Brady Johnson, Associate Superintendent Dr. Alvera Lesane, Principal Dr. Alisha Cloer and Principal Andrew Mehall, were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Johnson restrained 9-year-old Gage Andrews on several occasions and picked him up and placed him in the trash can. When he tried to get out, she reportedly pushed him back in, saying, “if he acted like trash, [she] would treat him like trash.”

It was also reported Johnson pushed Gage to the floor and restrained him, covering his mouth and nose so he couldn’t scream. Johnson told Gage’s mother she did this to stop him from disrupting other students in the hallway, according to the suit.

We first heard from Gage’s mother last October. The lawsuit Channel 9 uncovered this week lays out even more heartbreaking claims of abuse that our team asked the school district about.

Renee Andrews told Channel 9 last year about some of the trauma she said her son endured then, that she didn’t know about. Gage has autism.

“It was terrible because my son had been crying, not wanting to go to school, and we made him go,” Andrews said in 2019. “Gage said on multiple occasions they would put him in what he called the recycle bin.”

The lawsuit also claims Johnson made the boy stand in a taped-off square one day after he broke his desk while having a “behavioral meltdown.”

Another claim from the lawsuit explains that the boy came home with dirty clothes and grease in his hair another day while in the second grade. It says Johnson herself told Andrews she “accidentally spilled hot juice and grease” from her lunch on him.

The lawsuit states several teachers reported the abuse to Cloverleaf Elementary administration, who reported it to the human resources director as well as Lesane and Johnson.

According to the lawsuit, the administration did not take any further steps to investigate the abuse allegations or report the abuse to the police.

The family claimed Johnson and the administration was “negligent” in how they handled the situation and “intentionally inflicted emotional distress.”

They are looking to financially cover damages from “past, present and future psychological, pain, suffering and impairment.” In addition, they are looking to cover medical bills, counseling and other costs and expenses for future psychological care as well as attorney fees.

In 2019, the Iredell-Statesville School District told Channel 9 that Johnson was no longer employed with the school district, and on Tuesday a spokesperson again confirmed she resigned last year.

But the lawsuit claims Johnson is working in the district as a teacher currently, while on probation.

The district spokesperson also wrote in an email, “The matter has been referred to the North Carolina School Boards Trust. NCSBT will employ defense counsel to represent Iredell-Statesville Schools. We are unable to give further comment at this time.”

Channel 9 contacted Johnson’s attorney for a comment on the claims in the lawsuit, but did not receive a response Tuesday afternoon.