Martinsburg, WV – Two special education employees have been suspended and one has resigned amid allegations that they threatened and psychologically abused the special-needs students in their classroom.
The shocking statements were captured by a hidden recording device that Amber Pack placed in her 8-year-old daughter’s hair, after the little girl didn’t want to return to her classroom at Berkeley Heights Elementary School, WJLA reported.
Pack said she was devastated when she played the recording back, and discovered the abuse her daughter and other special-needs students had been subjected to by a teacher and two teacher’s aids.
"I couldn't eat for three days. My stomach. I was so upset. Every time I looked at her, I would start crying,” she told WJLA.
"I ought to backhand you right in your teeth. How is that for anxiety?" one of the instructors said. “This one I could punch her right in the face.”
Another employee threatened to pull a child’s hair to make the student cry, and referred to one child as a “wench.”
"You're like a pygmy,” another instructor told one of the students. “You're like a pygmy thing."
“You got to go pee-pee? Pee-pee?” one employee asked a child. “Or do you not have to go pee-pee and you just want to go jerk off in a chair?”
Pack said the shocking comments and threats were all captured by a single day’s recording.
“One day. Eight hours,” she confirmed, adding that she believed it had been going on for much longer than that.
Pack said she contacted school officials and the Martinsburg Police Department the following day to report the abuse.
That was back in October of 2018, she told WDVM.
By November, Pack was frustrated that nothing seemed to be happening with her complaint, so she posted clips of the audio recording online.
That’s when Kasey Murphy learned that her son, 6-year-old Owen, had also been threatened in the same classroom.
"I've never heard from the principal. Never heard from the Superintendent. I've never heard from any of them,” Murphy told WJLA.
"I am gonna beat your butt for sure, and Owen you're gonna get one just just cause,” one of the instructors said.
They also teased her son, and refused to give him food.
"Growl at me. I dare you and you won't get one. Go ahead. There is nothing says I have to give you a snack. Nothing,” one instructor told him.
"Looks like you get nothing Owen. Sorry buddy,” another employee chimed in.
"It's sickening," the devastated mother told WJLA. "People don't even talk to animals like that, and they are talking to non-verbal children who don't understand why they are talking to them like that. They aren't doing anything wrong."
After Pack went public with the recording, the school district placed the three employees on paid administrative leave, WJLA reported.
One of those employees – a female instructor – resigned from her position on Dec. 4, 2018, the Herald-Mail reported.
“Berkeley County Schools will not tolerate any action or inaction that impacts the health, welfare and safety of our students,” the district said in a statement, according to WDVM. “The employees involved in the Berkeley Heights incident were placed on administrative leave since the allegations surfaced and the teacher has since resigned.”
“We’re conducting an internal investigation and are cooperating fully with the investigation by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Child Protective Services,” the statement read. “State and federal privacy laws prohibit Berkeley County Schools from providing any additional information at this time.”
On Friday, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Catie Wilkes Delligatti said that the recording showed “shocking and disturbing” verbal abuse by the employees, but that the threats were not criminal offenses.
“The recording contained numerous instances of verbal abuse that are frankly unconscionable,” Delligatti said, according to WDVM.
“The verbal treatment of Ms. Pack and Ms. Murphy’s children is shocking and disturbing. However, under West Virginia law, verbal abuse of children is not a criminal act,” the prosecutor’s statement read.
Delligatti said she is also concerned about how the children were treated, and that she apprised the Berkley County Board of Education and the West Virginia Department of Education of her office’s findings.
The U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Office has just opened an investigation, WJLA reported.
Pack and Murphy said they have moved their children to another school district, and that they are both doing well with their new classmates and teachers.