Baltimore County police are investigating a possible incident of abuse involving a substitute teacher at Halethorpe Elementary School on Feb. 11 that was alleged by at least one parent and was reported to the police by the school system.
The substitute will no longer be working in the school system, according to Baltimore County Public Schools spokesman Brandon Oland.
A parent filed a report with police Tuesday evening, alleging that around 11:30 a.m., a female substitute teacher in a fourth-grade class at the school abused at least one student, police spokeswoman Jennifer Peach said.
Police declined to share further details of the report, citing an ongoing investigation.
Parents allege the substitute physically grabbed children and kissed at least one, exhibiting “just bizarre behavior,” said Lisa Carroll, whose son is enrolled in the fourth-grade class.
Sandra Zook, who filed a report with police, said the teacher “held my son’s hands above his head, she was sitting on a chair, pulled him toward her, crossed her legs over his legs and kissed him on the cheek twice.”
Zook’s 9-year-old son told her the substitute later “proceeded to sit on him and bounce up and down on his lap."
Parents were alerted by an automated phone call around 3 p.m. Tuesday from Halethorpe Elementary administration that an incident had occurred during school hours and directed them to call the principal for further information, parents said.
The phone call said, “It was reported to our administration that a substitute teacher allegedly exhibited unprofessional behavior during the class,” according to a transcription Baltimore County Public Schools shared with Baltimore Sun Media.
The school “immediately investigated this report and took action to remove the substitute teacher from the classroom,” the transcription said.
Laura Grover, whose 10-year-old daughter is in the fourth grade at Halethorpe, said the teacher asked multiple students to “pull out their chair from their desk so she could observe their work,” then bounced “on their laps,” Grover said.
Grover said that when her daughter refused to move her chair, the substitute "dug her nails into my daughter’s armpits” to remove her.
Grover added that there were no observable marks on her daughter by the time she was picked up from school that day.
Zook and Grover said the teacher asked to play a “clapping game” with the students, and asked them to name body parts, using “breasts” and “nipple” as an example.
Parents said the substitute also made the nearly 20 students run around in a circle while she pulled out chairs “to trip them," according to Carroll, who added that her son injured his leg climbing over desks to hide from the substitute behind a piece of furniture.
Multiple students asked to leave to go to the bathroom and to see the guidance counselor, but were refused, Zook said, adding that the substitute grabbed his neck to prevent him from leaving.
Eventually, her son and another student left the class and alerted the guidance counselor, who returned with the assistant principal to observe her behavior before the substitute was subsequently escorted out of the classroom.
Zook said her son “hasn’t been back to school yet.”
“He’s scared she’s gonna hurt him because he told on her,” Zook said.
“There’s a level of conduct we expect our staff in the classroom to follow," Oland said. “It’s completely unacceptable to exhibit any kind of inappropriate behavior in front of students.”
Oland wouldn’t say how long the substitute has worked for the school system, citing the active investigation. He couldn’t confirm if any of the teacher’s actions were observed by school administration.
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Baltimore County Board of Education member Lisa Mack, who oversees county schools in District 1, wrote on Facebook that she was aware of the incident and that Superintendent Darryl L. Williams was notified.
“Due to existing BCPS policy and rules, I may not be able to share details of any investigation, BUT please know that I am aware of the situation and will work with the Superintendent and his staff to ensure that all of our kids are safe,” Mack wrote.
Mack did not immediately respond to a phone call Thursday afternoon.
Substitute teachers are vetted with background checks and fingerprinting prior to being hired, Oland said.
“I’ve never had an issue with this school,” Carroll said, but “I feel like they dropped the ball on” alerting parents.
“We should’ve been notified within the hour,” Carroll said. “This, to me, is sexual harassment, some type of harassment — my kid is messed up mentally, he’s messed up physically.”
“He’s truly disturbed,” Carroll said, adding that she removed her son from school Wednesday due to his stress. “This is supposed to be his safe place.”