Gaston Co. teacher accused of assaulting special needs students

CRAMERTON, N.C. — Cramerton police confirmed Monday that they arrested Penny Barker, 42, of Gastonia, and charged her with assaulting a child with disabilities by using hands and objects.

Barker, a special needs teacher at McAdenville Elementary School, has been suspended with pay since Jan. 24.

Barker was charged with two counts of assault on a child under 12 years of age and two counts of assault on a handicapped person.

She is due in court on April 3.

Warrants say that Barker grabbed a 6-year-old by the ears and picked him off the ground, which caused cuts. The warrants also say she squeezed a cold, soaked stuffed animal over the head of a 5-year-old that caused the water to fall onto the child's body.

The alleged crimes occurred between Oct. 1, 2016 and Feb. 4, police said.

Channel 9 spoke to parents who said Child Protective Services launched an investigation after their child came home with bruises.

They said their child was in Barker's class and they pulled the child out.

This was before Barker was put on suspension with pay on Jan. 24.

Jay McCosh checked his daughter's backpack on the way home from McAdenville Elementary and didn't find any information about the allegations against a teacher for special needs students.

”We were shocked at what had happened,” McCosh said.

McCosh is concerned about the allegations, but hopes this case doesn't damage the school’s reputation.

“The school is so strong, and the leaders at the school and the other teachers are so great, I think that's what made it the most shocking,” McCosh said.

Channel 9 asked if there were cameras that could have captured the alleged incidents.

A spokesperson at the school said cameras are only in the common areas, not in classrooms.

Several parents said they were notified about the arrest through media reports, and not through the school.

"The kids as it is don't have a voice and us as their parents, we have to be their voice," said Christopher Jennings, a parent of children with disabilities at McAdenville Elementary. "It is absolutely sickening."

Parents are calling for more transparency at the school and are worried there potentially could be more victims.

"Our kids with disabilities should not be treated any differently than a normal child," Amber Jennings, said. "You need to realize if you're going to take on a position and be a special needs teacher you have to understand the children you're going to be dealing with on a daily basis."

Barker was released from the Gaston County Jail and after being placed under a $10,000 secured bond.

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