Teacher accused of spanking 5-year-old boy with autism at Arkansas school

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (KARK/CNN) - An Arkansas elementary school teacher is back in the classroom after she was accused of spanking a 5-year-old student with autism, leaving the boy’s family frustrated as they seek punishment.

Mother Tasheena Roper says she can’t understand why her 5-year-old son Kemauri was allegedly spanked by Celia Wortham, his kindergarten teacher at Dwight Elementary School in Russellville, Arkansas.

“How dare you. That’s my child, not yours,” Roper said. “If you can’t control yourself in an environment, you don’t need to be teaching.”

Multiple staff members claim they heard Wortham call Kemauri a “bad boy,” followed by an audible hit and crying, according to a police report. The school principal told police Wortham admitted to the hit, so she was put on administrative leave.

Corporal punishment is allowed in the school district, but a recently passed state law protects students with an “intellectual disability” from being spanked at school.

“If you couldn’t handle him, you should have asked for help,” Roper said. “You can’t get away with this, and I’m not stopping until you have to pay for it.”

Roper says the district chose to put her son in an integrated classroom, one that is not only for students with special needs. She claims before the school year, she was promised Kemauri’s special education plan would be followed but says that fell short.

“The school district, the teacher herself who sat in our IEP meeting, assured us that they could handle him, that they could make this work, that they would have accommodations for him, and I feel like I was lied to at every turn,” she said.

Since the alleged spanking, Roper says Kemauri was moved to another school in the district. She’s now trying to plan next steps, saying her focus is to make sure her son gets the instruction he needs in the classroom.

“They broke his trust, as well as mine. I don’t trust the school system anymore. I’m afraid to send my son to school. I don’t know who else is going to do what else to him,” Roper said.

Russellville Police are investigating the incident, but no charges have been filed.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services has also opened an investigation.

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