EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. –Two employees have been suspended with pay as police investigate a Head Start program for an unusual punishment—the teacher and her assistant allegedly told children to strip naked and stand in the closet for up to 10 minutes.
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, according to KTVI.
It’s believed four of the children were victims of the unusual punishment. The investigation is far from over, Schmoll said. However, the chief believes there are no other suspects at this time.
The teacher is a 26-year-old woman.
The chief said he doesn’t believe the children were physically or sexually harmed. He said the teacher admitted to the punishment, and 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.