Lawsuit settled against teacher accused of abusing 3 students with special needs

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Families have reached a settlement in a lawsuit against a teacher in Gaston County accused of abusing three young students with special needs six years ago.

“When you do find someone that’s not doing what’s right for your kid, that’s not the best,” said parent Jennifer Angelo. “The system just seemed to protect itself more than it protected our kids.”

Angelo, the mother of one of the alleged victims, became one of the parents last week to see some justice in the case.

“One lawyer literally said to me, ‘We won’t touch the school system with a 10-foot pole,’” Angelo said. “We were told things like that repeatedly.”

Angelo and the families of the two other alleged victims agreed to settle the lawsuit against the Gaston County Board of Education and teacher Penny Pope Barker. Each family will receive $225,000.

“I’m happy that it’s over,” Angelo said. “I’m happy that the settlement will go toward helping our son in the future.”

“This has been about literally giving a voice to children who cannot have a voice for themselves,” said Yolanda Trotman, the family’s attorney.

In 2017, Barker was charged with assaulting two children with disabilities while in the classroom at McAdenville Elementary School.

Chip Hinnant represented one of the other students and said the assault charges against Barker were later dropped.

“It’s not been completely clear why that happened and that’s something we think, in this particular case, was inappropriate given the nature of the conduct at issue,” Hinnant said.

They said policy changes would signify true justice.

“There have to be some systemic changes in holding educators accountable in a way that’s truly tangible,” Trotman said.

“You can’t sue for someone to never work with kids again,” Angelo said. “You can’t sue for cameras to be put in every special needs classroom.”

Barker still works for the district. It is unclear what her position is.

Channel 9′s Jonathan Lowe reached out to Barker’s attorney several times for a statement but did not hear back in time for this story.

Lowe received a statement from Gaston County Schools, which read, in part: “The settlement is not an admission of liability, but rather a strategic decision by the Board of Education’s insurance company to avoid the costs of further litigation, including possible appeals, and to obtain a dismissal and full release of all claims.”

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Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe, wsoctv.com

Jonathan is a reporter for WSOC-TV.