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Teacher fired after child's mouth is taped

Now the mother of the 6-year-old victim wants the substitute's name made public.

By Kim Minugh -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Wednesday, January 28, 2004

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A substitute teacher has been fired from the North Sacramento School District for allegedly taping a 6-year-old student's mouth shut earlier this month.

District officials confirmed Tuesday that the incident took place but would not release the substitute's name, citing personnel reasons.

"We are definitely taking it seriously. That's why this person no longer works for us," said district spokeswoman Inge Borza. "We regret that it occurred."

Michelle Curenio of North Sacramento said her first-grade son told her after he returned home from school Jan. 9 that his substitute teacher at Norwood Elementary School taped his mouth shut to keep him quiet.

"My son felt humiliated. He felt traumatized," Curenio said. "He's in counseling right now."

It is unclear what prompted the discipline or how long the boy wore the tape. However, Curenio said her son told her he had been sitting in his seat and raising his hand when the substitute got angry, apparently frustrated by noise in the classroom.

When district officials began investigating the incident at Curenio's request, Angie Higgins, a learning coordinator at Northwood, interviewed the boy about what happened.

She provided a transcript of the interview to Curenio, who shared it with The Bee.

In it, Higgins asks the student when the substitute put the tape on his mouth.

"I didn't get P.E. I kept raising my hand. That's when he put the tape on. I missed my P.E.," the 6-year-old answered.

Higgins asked whether the substitute put tape on anyone else's mouth.

"No, they stood quiet," the student answered. "They didn't want tape on their mouth."

He told Higgins that he thought the substitute would put tape on everyone's mouth, "like he was gonna rob everyone."

Since then, Curenio said her son has been anxious and grappling with his asthma. Although he asked his mother to transfer him to another school, she has decided to keep him at Norwood, where he can continue to see the school counselor there.

Curenio said that above all else, she is concerned the substitute will move on and find employment at other schools. She has asked the district to release the man's name so she can release it to the media and the police in hopes that he won't be hired as a substitute elsewhere.

She has notified the Sacramento Police Department of the incident, but has not filed charges.

"I just don't want him working" as a teacher, Curenio said. "He doesn't need to be around children anymore."

The man's substitute teaching career remains up in the air at this point. Mary Armstrong, general counsel for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, said that her organization is notified anytime a teacher or substitute is fired because of misconduct.

The commission could take three to six months to investigate the incident, she said.

"His credential will be looked at, and it could be revoked, or lesser forms of discipline could be taken," Armstrong said.

She added that the commission revokes no more than 200 credentials a year. She said a quarterly and yearly report, including names, is issued to all districts detailing the disciplinary measures taken by the commission.

Patty Smart of the North Sacramento district's human resources department said that before being hired, all substitute teachers must fill out an application and be screened for minimum qualifications, including proper credentials and previous course work related to the federal No Child Left Behind law.

They also must be fingerprinted and cleared for tuberculosis.

Smart declined to comment on how long the substitute had been working for the district. Spokeswoman Borza said the teacher was dismissed the day after district officials concluded that the incident had happened.

Curenio said she is pleased with the district's action, but will not feel reassured until she knows the teacher's credential is revoked.

She said she is not interested in a lawsuit or money -- just peace of mind.

"We're trying to do what's right for the community," she said. "No kid should have to go through this."


About the Writer
---------------------------

The Bee's Kim Minugh can be reached at (916) 773-7359 or kminugh@sacbee.com.


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