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The Lafayette Parish School System main office is pictured Monday, April 16, 2018, in Lafayette, La. ORG XMIT: BAT1804161232227826

Youngsville Police are investigating alleged physical abuse of special education students at Southside High School, following a written complaint by a former substitute teacher.

The allegations involve one Southside teacher, who is accused of grabbing, poking and slapping students. At least two students have been identified as alleged victims, including one who has been identified as a frequent target of abuse.

Youngsville Police Sgt. Gabe Thompson said the department is investigating “an allegation of possible misconduct at a school within Lafayette Parish,” and declined to identify the school or the nature of the allegation. Thompson said the investigation began on March 31, which is the same day a former substitute teacher, Laurie Gresham, submitted a voluntary statement detailing abuse she claims to have witnessed.

The Lafayette Parish School System cut Gresham after she discussed the abuse with administrators in a meeting that she recorded. In the recording, which the Advocate obtained, Lafayette Schools administrator Kathy Aloisio said she was “mortified” after seeing one of the incidents on surveillance video.

Lafayette Schools spokesperson Allison Dickerson did not respond to repeated queries via email, phone and text concerning the abuse allegations, Aloisio’s involvement and other questions related to the district’s handling of the matter. The Advocate’s first query was sent just before 2 p.m. Thursday. Good Friday was a district holiday.

The teacher did not return a voicemail left on a publicly listed cell phone number.

The mother of one of the alleged victims told the Advocate that she wrote a statement in support of the teacher at the request of Southside administrators. But she said she later learned the administrators misled her into thinking there had been only one incident, and that they lied to her about the existence of video evidence.

The mother, who did not want to be identified, said she has withdrawn her son from the school and is now considering legal action against the district.

In the incident allegedly captured on video, the teacher grabbed the student by the neck and yelled at him. Aloisio, who is the middle and secondary schools director, is heard repeatedly referring to the video in the recording of the meeting with Gresham.

“I was mortified when I saw it. Just to see how he towered over him,” Aloisio said in the meeting.

Aloisio, who is heard introducing herself in the recording, said in the meeting that the incident on video occurred March 10, which corroborates what Gresham told the Advocate in an interview and her statement to police.

Reached by telephone, Aloisio declined comment.

Aloisio told Gresham she learned of the alleged abuse on the day of their meeting, which was March 19, according to Gresham’s statements to police and to the Advocate. It is not clear why police did not begin investigating until March 31, the day Gresham filed her police statement.

State law requires immediate reporting — to law enforcement, state child welfare authorities, or both — of physical abuse of children that results in serious bodily or neurological injuries. It is unclear if any of the alleged abuse at Southside caused any injuries.

A separate law forbids corporal punishment of special education students. Corporal punishment includes “hitting, paddling, striking, spanking, slapping, or any other physical force that causes pain or physical discomfort,” according to the law.

The mother of the student who initially supported the teacher said she previously told the teacher that it is sometimes necessary to speak to her son with a raised voice, and to physically restrain him from hurting himself.

She said she assumed the teacher was responding to such a situation when Southside administrators initially called her about the incident. Gresham, who said she personally witnessed the incident on video, told the Advocate that the teacher was enraged, and the physical contact was not needed for restraint.

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“He grabbed (the student) by the back of the neck, the shoulder area, and was screaming at him,” Gresham said in an interview. “It was very threatening. It was a scary tone.”

State law and district policy permit certain types of physical restraint when students are at imminent risk of harm to themselves or others. Such restraint can be applied only as a last resort, and must be “directly proportionate to the circumstances and to the student’s size, age, and severity of behavior,” according to district policy.

Physical restraints are prohibited for discipline or punishment, for behavioral compliance or for convenience of staff, the policy states.

Additionally, parents must be notified in writing within 24 hours of the use of physical restraints. The mother of the student in the video told the Advocate that Southside administrators called her on March 22, three days after Aloisio met with Gresham. She said she has never received any written notification of restraints being used on her son. The call with administrators was brief, she said.

“The conversation only lasted about three to four minutes. They were like, OK, if you’re OK we are OK, have a good day,” she said.

Gresham said she had seen the teacher aggressively poking the same student on a different occasion, apart from the incident allegedly captured on video. The student’s mother, who said she had heard the recording of Gresham’s meeting with Aloisio, said she was stunned to learn from the recording that there had been more than one incident.

“Was it done in a purposely harmful manner? I still really don’t know,” the mother said, referring to the incident on video, which she has not seen. “I am more appalled by the fact that other incidents are happening in the classroom that was not reported to me.”

She said she was also terrified to hear Gresham tell Aloisio in the recording that the teacher had taken her son into a separate room alone, without other adults. Learning of the existence of a video after being told there was none made her suspicious of the administration, she added.

“It just makes me think they are hiding something,” she said.

In the recording of the meeting between Aloisio and Gresham, Aloisio said she learned of the alleged abuse from another staff member, prior to the meeting. Other staff members who potentially witnessed the abuse were also being interviewed.

Aloisio tried to allay Gresham’s anxiety about disclosing what she had seen.

“I’m going to protect you. I take my job seriously. You are going to be protected, OK?,” Aloisio said.

Ten days after the meeting, on March 29, Gresham received an email notification from the personnel department that she had been deactivated as a substitute. The personnel director, John Mouton, requested a meeting to “discuss the situation,” according to the email from a staffer.

The email said Mouton had tried to call Gresham. Gresham declined the meeting.

In their March 19 meeting, Aloisio directed Gresham to provide a written statement, which Gresham said she assumed would be turned over to law enforcement. After learning it had not and after being terminated, she said she decided to separately submit a voluntary statement on March 31, the same day the police investigation began.

“I just gave my statement and I was positive they were going to turn it into the police,” Gresham said of the written statement she gave to Aloisio. “It’s an investigation. I just trusted that’s how it goes.”


Email Ben Myers at bmyers@theadvocate.com. Follow Ben Myers on Twitter, @blevimyers.