A teacher and two aides at Silver Sands School in Fort Walton Beach were arrested on Monday, January 27 and charged with abusing multiple students on the autism spectrum. Silver Sands is an elementary school for children with disabilities.
The three women are accused of locking students in dark rooms and intentionally blowing a whistle in the ear of a student with a low sensory auditory threshold. Investigators say that the suspects also threatened one of the victims with the whistle. According to arrest warrants, the whistle was blown in the victim's ear while his arms were held down.
All three victims were placed in a classroom bathroom with the door closed and lights turned off as a punishment.
The three employees charged with child abuse include 48-year-old teacher Margaret Wolthers and aides Diana LaCroix, 52 and Carolyn Madison, 47. As of Tuesday, both LaCroix and Madison were free after posting a $10,000 bond.
In a separate case, a guidance counselor from Shalimar Elementary in the same school district (Okaloosa County) has been charged with failure to report suspected child sex abuse. According to the Sheriff's Office, Sharen Burt "failed to notify the Florida Department of Children and Families last October 19th that a 5-year-old student had allegedly being(sic) sexually abused by another student at the school."
Attorney contributor Michael Haggard represents survivors of sexual violence in civil cases. Here is Michael's perspective on how the legal system can help families in this tragic situation find justice:
In any field that involves working with children, it's crucial to make sure that no sexual predators are hired, permitted to volunteer, or allowed anywhere near the kids. For schools, this means properly vetting employees before hiring them and making sure the school environment is safe. When students are abused by employees (whether sexually, physically, or verbally), it's important to determine if the school district is responsible for failing to keep their students safe.
If a school is found to have failed to keep their students safe from abuse because of negligence, the victims and their parents may have grounds to file a lawsuit against the school district. For instance, a school might be considered negligent for having a culture that encouraged the abuse of students for discipline or for hiring an employee with a history of child abuse.
If you or your child has been abused by a school employee, we understand the anger and pain your family is struggling with during this difficult time and we want to help. To learn more about your family's legal options, get in touch with one of our experienced child abuse survivors attorneys today for a free consultation.