Boston Herald, June 12, 1999

Alleged 'bite' order gets principal suspended
By Mark Mueller

The principal of an East Boston school has been suspended amid allegations she disciplined a 4-year-old boy for biting classmates by ordering the child's young victims to bite him back.

``Bite him and bite him hard,'' Esther Adames-Jiminez allegedly told three pre-schoolers as she held down the crying boy in her office at the East Boston Early Education Center. At least three other adults allegedly witnessed the incident.

Two of the children allegedly complied with the principal's order, biting hard enough to leave tooth marks on James Watkins' arm, while a third student, a 4-year-old girl, refused, the girl's mother said yesterday.

``My daughter told them, `My skin is the same as James', and Jesus wouldn't bite him, and I won't either,' '' Rachael Derry, 32, said yesterday.

Laura Watkins, 38, the mother of the bitten boy, fought off tears as she spoke of the principal's ``outrageous'' behavior and of her son's reaction to it.

``He feels betrayed by people he trusted,'' Watkins said. ``And he can't understand why they would do that to him.''

Both the Department of Social Services and the Boston Public Schools are investigating the incident, which allegedly occurred last fall but which was brought to Watkins' attention by a teacher only last week. She said she asked her son about the incident in a non-suggestive manner and that he confirmed it.

``They all bit me,'' she quoted the boy as saying.

Watkins said she immediately removed James and his older brother, a 6-year-old, from the school, one of three early education centers opened across the city last year. The schools' students - pre-schoolers, kindergarteners and first-graders - range in age from 3 to 6.

DSS spokesman David Van Dam yesterday confirmed the investigation, sparked when Watkins filed an abuse complaint, but he would say little more.

``DSS is satisfied that no child is at risk of harm at this time,'' Van Dam said.

Michael Contompasis, chief operating officer of the Boston schools, said the department launched an investigation after learning of the allegations Tuesday. After hearing more about the case yesterday, he said, Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant ordered Adames-Jiminez suspended with pay pending the outcome of the DSS and school probes.

``If these allegations are true, they are indeed disturbing,'' Contompasis said.

He called Adames-Jiminez a veteran educator who worked at Dorchester's Dever Elementary School before she was tapped for the principal's post in September.

Watkins and Derry yesterday spoke from the office of a Peabody lawyer, Michael F. Natola, whom Watkins has retained as she considers a lawsuit.

``I've been a lawyer for 20 years, and I'm the parent of three young children myself, and, quite frankly, I've never heard anything quite so outrageous about the behavior of a school official,'' Natola said.

Watkins said she plans to await the outcome of the DSS investigation before she decides whether to file suit.

But she angrily said Adames-Jiminez should pay some price for the alleged discipline.

``I would like her to be accountable for her behavior, and not just her, but the people who were in that room during this act,'' she said. ``It scares me to think about what she has the potential to do.''

Derry, a teacher's aide at the school, was equally upset.

``I don't think I've ever felt so much stress in my entire life,'' she said. ``No one has the right to tell my child to hurt another child.''

Derry said the principal's alleged actions also raised health concerns.

``What if blood was exchanged?'' she asked.

Derry said she learned of the alleged incident in January from another faculty member but did not immediately speak to other parents about it in part because she did not want to seem a ``busybody'' and in part because she feared for her job at the school.

She changed her mind three weeks ago, confronting Adames-Jiminez.

``She was very rude,'' Derry said. ``Her response was that there were hardly any teeth marks. Her last words were, `I guess we disagree.' ''

Adames-Jiminez did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Watkins acknowledged her son, a special education student, had been acting out in the weeks before the alleged discipline in late October or early November. James' biting of classmates had angered other parents, Watkins said. She added that she worked with school officials in an effort to change the behavior and that it did eventually stop.

But she railed against the principal's solution.

``This is not an acceptable form of discipline,'' she said. ``I wouldn't be doing my job as a parent if I sent them back (to school) before this was resolved.''

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