February 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Board Upholds Firing Of Teacher’s Aide But District Probably Hasn’t Heard The Last From Ex-Employee Who Alleges Abuse Of Kids

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Coeur d’Alene School Board has upheld the firing of teacher’s aide Jerry Roth.

Roth claims that disabled children were abused by Lakes Middle School staff members, and sees himself as a whistleblower. School district officials said he was dismissed for not following instructions in the special education classroom.

Roth got a letter Wednesday telling him of the board’s decision. He said he plans to sue, although he doesn’t want to work for the Coeur d’Alene district again.

“We’re not going to let this end,” he said. “I am going to take action against the school district for the damage they’ve done to my personal character.”

The board voted against Roth late Monday evening after he pleaded his case in a closed-door session.

Four of five trustees were present, and the vote was unanimous. They were concerned with two matters, said trustee Vern Newby. One was Roth’s employment, which Newby declined to talk about.

The other was how the special education program at Lakes is run.

“We’ve made a few minor changes down there, and we’re looking to see if more are warranted,” Newby said.

Parents of all five of the severely disabled boys at Lakes have supported Roth, some avidly so. All of them called upon the school district to fire Lakes’ special education teacher.

Mishelle Bowan, whose son Chris is in the special ed program, said Wednesday she felt the board had made the wrong decision.

“I feel they lost a good teacher’s aide,” she said. “The school board has chosen to pick people who are more deceiving, and can put up a good front, rather than pick someone who’s truthful.”

School district officials have assured parents that they would take “appropriate action” against any staff members found to harm children. However, they said, they could find no evidence of abuse.

Barry Black, a deputy prosecutor for Kootenai County, said he sat in on a heated meeting between parents and district officials because he wanted to avoid a “witch hunt” against district employees.

But if anyone comes forward with dates, names and places in which abuse has occurred, he’d be all for an investigation.

“If there’s been violence against children, no one wants to go after those people more than this department, more than me,” Black said.

State Health and Welfare officials say any investigation would be done by police, because “injury to child” is a criminal matter. They only enforce the civil Child Protection Act, which is aimed abusive families, said Rob Gregory, program manager for Family and Children’s Services.

Health and Welfare has offered to serve as a liaison, however, passing information along to Black.

“We don’t have reports of injury with a specific child that would substantiate child abuse,” Gregory said.

“Mr. Roth has complained about the general handling of kids” but hasn’t provided specific information, he added.

Roth said Wednesday that he does have “names, dates and places” and would give that information to Black. No investigator has contacted him, he said.

Health and Welfare did invite parents to put their complaints in writing. Bowan said she and her husband will do that. Their son, Chris, has been angry and withdrawn for seven months, she said. Chris told them he had been held by the neck and forced against a wall, coinciding with reports she heard from Roth.

“I can’t remember all the dates and times, but I remember the incidents,” she said. “I do know what happened to my son.”

Barring criminal charges, Black said complaints about the handling of disabled students are best solved within the school district. Asked if the district was doing enough, he replied:

“I hope so.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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