Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 16, 2000

Police look into paddling complaint, 2nd in Dermott schools
By Emmett George

DERMOTT -- Law enforcement authorities are investigating a complaint of a second paddling incident involving a Dermott School District principal, officials confirmed Thursday.

Linda Gossett, 34, of Montrose filed a complaint late last month alleging that her son, James Gossett, 12, was paddled by Jimmie Sadler, the elementary and middle school principal, in a classroom and without a proper witness, Police Chief Carl McCree said. Gossett said that her son was paddled by Sadler in a classroom where students with disciplinary problems are sent and that the paddling was witnessed by William Mays, a noncertified teacher.

State guidelines require that paddling be done in private. School district policy requires that a certified teacher be present when corporal punishment is administered. Photographs were taken of the child's buttocks and a report was made, McCree said. The information was turned over to the Child Protection Unit of the Arkansas State Police.

Child protection investigator Beth Carter of Clarendon has been assigned to the case, state police spokesman Donnie Belew said. Carter could not be reached for comment Thursday.

"He was purple and black," Gossett said of her son. "It looked like carpet burns." James Gossett apparently became disruptive during class and made disparaging remarks about Mays' disability, McCree said. Mays is an amputee.

McCree described James Gossett as about 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 275 pounds. "He's just a big kid that bruises easily," he said.

District Superintendent Gene Sikora was in the hospital Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Mike Boyd, special assistant to Sikora, said Thursday the matter has not yet been discussed by the School Board. He said he was not at liberty to discuss the case because of student confidentiality concerns.

Chuck Gibson, the school district's attorney, said Thursday that "I don't know anything officially. They haven't tagged me on this."

Sadler recently replaced former elementary school Principal Curtis Harris, who was accused in late March of striking a child in the face with a paddle.

Sylvia Easterling of the Halley community in Desha County complained that Harris struck her daughter, Portia, 8, in the face while attempting to paddle the child in his office for a disciplinary problem. Harris quickly resigned, but not before Easterling filed a lawsuit in Municipal Court charging Harris with third-degree battery and abuse of power. Eudora Municipal Judge Stephen Tisdale has agreed to hear the case. Prosecuting Attorney David Chambers declined to file criminal charges against Harris, saying there was no criminal intent to injure the child.

McCree said he was aware of the Easterling complaint. "That paddling is going to have to stop over there," he said. Arkansas law permits school districts to set their own policies on paddling and corporal punishment, but the policies must be clearly outlined in the school's handbook, according to Ray Lumpkin, administrator for student discipline with the state Department of Education.

School officials do not have to ask permission from parents to paddle students, Lumpkin said, but many require parents to sign consent forms.

"The law allows it [paddling], but you must follow your own policy as contained in the handbook," Lumpkin said. "It should be given after warnings," he said. "It is intended to be a last resort."

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