EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – Police are investigating a local Head Start program where children were allegedly told to strip naked and stand in the closet for 5 or 10 minutes as a punishment. Two employees were suspended with pay.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville runs the Head Start program at the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center and at about 8 other locations.
SIUE Police Chief Kevin Schmoll said authorities moved swiftly once they heard of the allegations. Within a couple hours, the teacher and her assistant were removed from the classroom of 20 kids.
It’s believed four of the children were victims of the unusual punishment. There could be other victims. The investigation is far from over, Schmoll said. However, the chief does believe there are no other suspects at this time.
The teacher is a 26-year-old woman and her assistant is a 41-year-old.
The chief said he doesn’t believe the children were physically or sexually harmed. He said the teacher admitted to the punishment. The assistant is in trouble for not stopping it or reporting it.
“The one teacher said she didn’t learn this anywhere this is what she tried and felt it would calm the children down by doing this,” Schmoll said. “But it’s obviously in no teaching manual anywhere. It’s inappropriate and against the law to do this.”
Schmoll said a young boy in the class told his mother and that’s when everything came to light.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon to clarify the foundation's role in the matter:
The SIUE Head Start Program leases space at the back of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center however the program is run completely independently from the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center programming and Foundation. Our staff was in no way involved in this alleged incident and had no knowledge of what happened in this case. As a Foundation that dedicates itself to improving the lives of children, we were deeply saddened to hear this alleged incident occurred and know that appropriate legal actions are being taken.