STARKE, Fla. – A Bradford County elementary school teacher finds herself under criminal investigation in response to allegations that she abused a 6-year-old child with special needs.
Helen Mae Haverty, who teaches at Southside Elementary in Starke, was suspended following the allegations. She first came under scrutiny after police received a Department of Children and Families report that accused her of grabbing a student's ear, among other complaints.
Haverty, 67, has not been charged with a crime. The Starke Police Department investigated the initial complaint and gave its findings to the State Attorney's Office. It's up to prosecutors to decide whether the case is worth pursuing.
Beginning in February, investigators interviewed several school staff members, including two employees who said they had seen Haverty use inappropriate physical force on students in and out of the classroom, according to a police report.
One employee said she witnessed Haverty pulling an unruly student by his ear during one incident to the point that she could "see the child's ear being stretched as a result," the report stated. At another point, the employee said, she saw Haverty to pull the same student out from under a table by his hair.
That employee, who described the student in question as an "extremely difficult child" and apparently the "primary focus of Haverty's frustration," said she had seen the teacher using "a pressure point near his clavicle to make him sit," according to the report.
A different staffer told police she had witnessed "many disturbing incidents" involving Haverty, the report stated. That staffer said she's seen Haverty snatching students up by their arms, slamming them down on benches and pulling on their ears, something she estimated happens multiple times a week.
Some staffers said even though they had seen the teacher yell at students or sit them down roughly, they never saw any behavior that they would have characterized as abusive. They acknowledged having seen Haverty restrain students, but told police they did not see anything inappropriate.
Reached at home, Haverty's husband, Jerry Drawdy, told News4Jax that his wife has never had a problem before after teaching for more than 30 years. He said the investigation has been rough on the couple and has them concerned.
"I think it's downright outrageous! Outrageous! She ain't done anything that should be considered wrong. Playing with a kid, just told him to go sit down, that's all," Drawdy.