Police will begin a new investigation into two Head Start teachers after the allegedly forced children to strip naked and stand in a closet as punishment. The teachers have been placed on administrative leave.
According to Police Chief Kevin Schmoll, separate interviews will be conducted with each child enrolled in the class in April.
“Since these are children, all interviews have to be done through the Child Advocacy Center in Belleville, [Illinois,] and those are scheduled for April 3, 4 and 5,” Schmoll said. “They will be conducted by a child forensic interviewer.”
The teachers and students involved were part of the Head Start program operated by SIUE at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis, Illinois.
“In this particular classroom, the teacher, if the children would act up, would have them undress completely and have them stand in a closet for five to 10 minutes,” Schmoll said.
Parents of the children within the school and the classroom involved were notified about the incident.
“A letter went out to the parents, letting them know about [the incident], and we are following up with each parent [with a child in] the classroom. Right now we have four victims and one child who was a witness to this,” Schmoll said.
Four of the 20 students, some as young as four years old, have come forward with the allegations against the two teachers. According to Schmoll, investigators may have more after they individually speak with parents.
Although it is reported the punishment may have been going on since early February, Schmoll said the department wasn’t notified until March 14.
According to International Business Times, the center received a report from a parent regarding “a child safety violation” in the classroom on March 13.
“I was made aware by the human resources director [from SIUE] who was told by the staff supervisor [in East St. Louis] from the Head Start Program,” Schmoll said.
In a statement from SIUE, the school said the children’s safety is first and foremost.
“The SIUE Head Start/Early Head Start Program is dedicated to protecting all children in its care, and the safety and well-being of all children is its top priority,” SIUE said. “The program will be working with SIUE Police, DCFS, and the federal and regional offices of Head Start to ensure
First-year education student Ashley Orr, of Alton, Illinois, said she was sickened by the treatment the children in the classroom received.
“[I was] disgusted, honestly. I couldn’t imagine anyone doing that to children, especially with preschoolers, because obviously those preschoolers aren’t going to tell their parents right away because they don’t understand,” Orr said. “I hate how they took advantage of their authority.”
Senior secondary education student, of Pekin, Illinois, Taylor Cruz said she doesn’t understand how the incident could have occurred more than once.
“My thoughts fell to where were the other adults in the daycare facility? Why was it allowed to go on for so long?” Cruz said. “I don’t understand why [the teacher] would think it was okay to do that and why [the other teacher] would allow it to happen.” Cruz said.
Until the interviews with the children are conducted, no further action will be taken.
“Nothing is going to happen until [the interviews] are concluded, and from that point we’ll consult with the St. Clair County State’s Attorney for charges,” Schmoll said.
The Alestle will continue to update as more information becomes available.