The Mississippi Department of Education has launched an investigation into why the mistreatment of a St. Martin special education student at the hands of a certified teacher went unreported to the agency despite a mandate to do so, officials confirmed.
MDE spokesperson Patrice Guilfoyle confirmed an investigation is ongoing, but did not elaborate.
The investigation began after the Sun Herald broke a story about incidents in 2014 and 2015 on a school bus involving the St. Martin student, a special education teacher and a bus driver.
In video footage obtained by the Sun Herald, then-special education teacher Kerri Anne Nettles repeatedly yells at the child, then 14, to shut up before picking up a towel off the floor and stuffing it into the child's mouth and holding it there.
In other footage, bus driver Antioinette Jane Raymond threatens to take the girl to jail, choke her or even kill her if she doesn't stop talking. The driver eventually sits on top of the child to subdue her.
State law requires all superintendents to report incidents involving teacher misconduct to MDE as soon as the allegations surface. MDE has told the Sun Herald it got no report of the incidents from the Jackson County School District.
The Sun Herald reached out to Superintendent Barry Amacker for comment before the story was published last month, but received no response.
On Tuesday, the Sun Herald forwarded the same request for comment to Amacker that was first sent in an email May 4. Calls to him also went unanswered.
Amacker this week responded in writing and defended his actions.
The district, Amacker said, took action immediately after the videos came to light. He pointed to the the abrupt termination of Nettles and Raymond a day after school officials learned what had happened. The district also turned the information over to the Jackson County Sheriff's Office to investigate.
“Although the case is involved in litigation and I am a little constrained in my response,” Amacker said, “I appreciate the opportunity to share what I can to answer your questions and hopefully convey the fact the Jackson County School District acted swiftly and responsibly in dealing with this matter.”
Amacker said the investigation and review of school bus surveillance video began only after someone raised concerns to St. Martin Middle School Principal Stephanie Gruich about “general behavior” on the special education school bus.
After reviewing the footage, Amacker said officials reacted appropriately.
He said he instructed the district's human resources director to send a letter to MDE to inform them of Nettles' actions, later determined to be misdemeanor crimes.
However, Amacker could not provide a copy of any document showing the school district reported the incidents to MDE.
Amacker said he checked with the director of human resources, who confirmed the information had been mailed to MDE per his request.
An 'updated report'
Since MDE said it never received a report on the incidents, Amacker said he submitted an “updated report” to MDE, which was made after the teacher's criminal case was resolved.
Nettles last month pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of child neglect and simple assault. Judge Kathy King Jackson fined Nettles $3,000 and gave her a suspended jail sentence.
Raymond was not a certified teacher, but has been employed by the district as a records clerk, a school bus driver, a special needs teacher assistant and interventionist, Amacker said,
Raymond was a records clerk from 1987 through 2010. On Aug. 5, 2015, she began as a special needs teaching assistant and interventionist. She also served as a bus driver.
Raymond's criminal cases is pending. The grand jury indicted her on misdemeanor charges of simple assault and contributing the delinquency, neglect or abuse of a chile.
The maximum sentence for the crimes is up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.
The Sun Herald asked MDE if Nettles' teaching license had been revoked and learned Nettles had let it expire in 2016, meaning she could have applied to renew the license.
Since then, Guilfoyle said, MDE has placed a flag on Nettles. If she tried to renew her teaching certificate, she would have to go through a hearing to determine whether action would be taken to revoke, suspend or terminate her license.
Because Raymond was not a certified teacher, MDE has no control over her employment in the school system.