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Mother believes justice done in special ed teacher slapping court casePosted Friday, February 25, 2011, at 12:25 PM
Lyons resident Linda Fish has been fighting for some justice to be done for her 10-year-old autistic adopted daughter, who was slapped by a teacher in special education classroom more than a year ago.
There have been plenty of frustrating times for the mother, who had talked repeatedly with school officials, attorneys, and police officers about the battery case all while trying to re-assure her young daughter, who was identified in court by her initials T.M.F, that school is a "safe place."
A one-day trial Tuesday ended with a Greene Superior Court jury returning a guilty verdict in just 21 minutes against a 27-year teaching veteran -- charging her with battery, a class B misdemeanor.
Patti Terkowsky, a former employee of the Greene-Sullivan Special Education Cooperative who was working in a classroom at White River Valley/Worthington Elementary School when the incident took place March 3, 2010, is currently suspended from teaching by the Indiana Department of Education for a two-year period.
She'll be sentenced by Superior Court Judge Dena Martin on April 1.
Terkowsky, who was not called to the witness stand during the trial, could receive up to a 180-jail sentence and a fine of $5,000.
It's likely that the verdict will be appealed.
The case unfolded after the young victim had put a pencil eraser in her mouth and the teacher was attempting to get the girl to spit out the eraser.
Aside from autism, the girl suffers from PICA -- an eating disorder characterized with the persistent ingestion of non-nutritive, non-food substances.
In T.M.F.'s case, she liked to put the school pencil erasers in her mouth.
The teacher was also apparently agitated because the victim had called her a "meany" -- which was a common declaration any time the young girl was confronted with something she really didn't want to do.
A teacher's aide was an eye-witness to the event and she testified in court that she saw Terkowsky's right hand come up very near the girl's mouth and after asking her to spit out the eraser, she hit her in the mouth.
The young girl immediately began to cry.
After the incident, the aide Nancy Patterson said Terkowsky told her, "I just showed her how mean I can be."
I was in the courtroom for all of the testimony and hearing that statement from an adult teacher, with more than 27 years in a special education classroom, was very disappointing and prompts me to wonder why special ed classrooms aren't equipped with video recording equipment so there is documentation about what really happens during the school day.
This was beyond corporal punishment.
Fish told me that there had been other problems with Terkowsky's demeanor and actions in the classroom that were document and reported to school and cooperative officials prior to the incident that resulted in the criminal charges.
Fish, who adopted T.M.F. and her two other special needs siblings, ages of 16 and 11, said after the verdict, "I am really relieved. This has gone on for a year. My daughter deserved this today. The prosecutor (deputy prosecutor Kevin McIntosh) worked really had on this case. He never backed down ... he proved to my daughter today that she has value and people are not going to abuse handicapped children. This has been very hard for her. I have always taught her that school was a safe place and you know this is a horrible thing. After this happened she didn't want to go back to school and was afraid ... my daughter didn't deserve what she got. She didn't do anything wrong."
To make matters worse in this case, Fish lost her husband and T.M.F. lost her adopted Dad 14 days after the incident -- losing a long-standing battle with cancer.
"It's been a nightmare for my entire family," Fish said. "To me the lesson out of all of this is school is not a safe place. This has been a horrible thing for all of us. You know my husband passed away knowing that he did not protect her. It was terrible for him. He was terminal and very aware the day I received the phone call that she had been slapped.
"We came back to Greene County because my husband wanted us in a safe place. We lived in a large area in Florida. This was like a slap in everyone's face because what we termed as a safe place for the children, obviously it wasn't."
The happy side of all this is T.M.F. is now back in school and things are going better.
"She has a wonderful teacher. She is understanding and gentle and my children adore her," Linda concluded.
Maybe she can feel safe again.
Nick is assistant editor for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at 847-4487 or 1-800-947-4487; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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