The principal of a Baton Rouge charter school is accused of punishing a 5-year-old girl by locking her in a school closet where she said spiders and roaches crawled over her, according to police.
Shafeeq Syid Shamsid-Deen, the principal and founder of Laurel Oaks Charter School, at 440 N. Foster Drive, is wanted on counts of cruelty to a juvenile — a felony — and false imprisonment, according to an arrest warrant issued Monday by Baton Rouge police.
Police say Shamsid-Deen, of 999 N. 9th St., has been in touch with authorities through his attorney, but as of early Wednesday night, he had not been booked.
In a statement, the chairman of the school’s board of directors said Wednesday that Shamsid-Dean has been suspended pending its own investigation.
According to the warrant, a teacher heard a child screaming and crying inside the school Aug. 22. After two other teachers joined in the search, the 5-year-old girl was found inside a closet in the school's cafeteria. The closet was locked from the outside.
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No one was around the closet when the teacher found the child locked inside it, police said.
The child told investigators that Shamsid-Dean, 31, told her to "go into the closet with the spiders, and if she screamed, he would turn the lights off," the warrant says. The child also said the closet "stinks" and "it has spiders and roaches in it that crawl on her."
The child told investigators she had been in the closet a long time so she started screaming.
The kindergartener said that Shamsid-Deen "puts her in the closet when she is bad," according to the warrant.
Aug. 22 was the 12th day of the school year. The girl was just starting kindergarten at a school where kindergarten is the earliest grade.
One of the teachers who found the child told police that she was "weeping hysterically" when they opened the closet door. The closet contained paint, other supplies, and a small chair that appeared to have been placed there recently because of its cleanliness, police said.
When one of the teachers emailed Shamsid-Deen with objections about the punishment, he responded that the school “will work to make sure we have a proper time-out area for scholars to reset in the cafeteria,” the warrant says.
Brian Adams, chairman of the school’s board of directors, said Shamsid-Deen had been suspended in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
"Laurel Oaks Charter School is committed to the safety and well-being of all students," the statement says. "Any action that would constitute a crime or result in neglect of a child has never been the policy at Laurel Oaks Charter School and is currently not the policy."
Rashid Young, who was director of operations for the school, said he is acting principal while Shamsid-Deen is on leave, and he is preparing to send a letter to parents about the incident.
If Shamsid-Deen is convicted or if he pleads no contest to the counts he’s facing, state law requires that the school fire him.
The Advocate on Wednesday emailed Adams several questions concerning the school’s statement, but was told that “since this is an ongoing investigation I am not at liberty to have any additional discussion on this matter.”
Adams, who is director of district and school partnership for the local chapter of Teach For America, is also one of three candidates running in the Oct. 14 special election for District 7 on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. Voters are replacing Barbara Freiberg, who was elected last November to the Metro Council.
Sydni Dunn, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Education, said the school has hired an outside law firm to lead up its investigation and has kept state officials abreast of the steps it’s taking. Dunn said the reports about what allegedly happened are concerning.
“We’re committed to the safety of all Louisiana children,” she said. “We do not accept these kinds of practices and we expect all schools to do the same.”
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Laurel Oaks is a charter school that recently started its second year, expanding to also serve first graders. It began with just 44 kindergartners fall of 2016, making it one of the smallest non-alternative schools in Baton Rouge.
Laurel Oaks was one of two charter schools approved in December 2015 by state leaders despite objections from East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake.
Samsid-Deen said in 2016 that his goal for Laurel Oaks was to have every student reach eighth grade with good enough grades to gain admittance to a public magnet school in Baton Rouge.
Samsid-Deen developed Laurel Oaks as part of a fellowship program through the Boston-based Building Excellent Schools, or BES, which has mentored several charter school leaders in Baton Rouge. Samsid-Deen, however, did not finish the program.
Samsid-Deen in 2008 earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. After college, he joined the Teach for America program, landing in rural New Mexico. He went on to spend three years with New Mexico’s department of education, overseeing the development of a new teacher evaluation system, before deciding to start the charter school in Baton Rouge.