CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – The Clay County Sheriff’s Office has launched an investigation into allegations of child abuse involving a substitute teacher at Thunderbolt Elementary School in Fleming Island.
The criminal investigation began after the parents of an 8-year-old student filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Office.
The parents, who wished to not be identified, claimed the substitute teacher battered their son in December. They said they were hoping the matter would be settled by school administrators, but when it wasn't, they filed the complaint.
News4Jax spoke with the boy and his family this week. The 8-year-old said that his second-grade class at Thunderbolt Elementary School was having an outdoor pizza party in December when his substitute teacher became upset with him for not finishing his slice of pizza.
"She screamed at me, 'No. You're going to have to finish that pizza,'" the boy said.
He said after she screamed at him, she grabbed him by the arm and "she threw me to the bench."
"It's not right to do this to a child my age," he said.
After the boy told his parents, the father said he wrote a letter to the school stating, "I need to speak to a higher up about this individual that put their hand on my kid."
The boy's father told News4Jax that he was upset because the substitute teacher’s actions could have injured his son, who previously underwent open heart surgery. He said after no response to his letter or phone calls, he wrote another letter, threatening to get his lawyer and law enforcement involved. That’s when he said he got a call from the assistant principal.
"She said everything was going to be taken care of, blah blah blah, and she would notify Kelly Services and she was going to be done with," the father said.
But the family said the substitute was not removed.
“She’s been there two more times since my dad wrote the letter," the boy said.
The boy's parents then filed the complaint with the Sheriff's Office, which has opened an investigation.
The Clay County School District said it tried to do something and attempted to reach out to the parents.
In a statement to News4Jax, the school district said, in part, "With the information, administration filed a request to not recommend this teacher to substitute in the future. Administration and the district are currently investigating receipt of the recommendation."
News4Jax has chosen not to name the substitute teacher because, although the incident is under investigation, she has not been charged with a crime.
The parents of the 8-year-old boy said they know very little about the substitute teacher's background.
“What if it’s other kids?" the father said. "I don’t know this lady.”
But Kelly Services, the company that hires substitute teachers for all of Clay County, assured News4Jax that all the substitutes they hire go through rigorous background checks.
A spokesperson for the agency released a written statement, which reads, in part:
“All KES substitute teachers undergo rigorous screening including criminal background screen and National Sex Offenders Registry (which typically exceeds school district requirements). They also receive thorough training prior to taking assignments. In addition to our background checks, KES conducts education verification and reference checks for every candidate to ensure only the most qualified substitute teachers are placed in front of students.”
As for the criminal investigation that was launched, the Kelly Services spokesperson said:
“I can assure you that any allegations reported on a Kelly Educational Staffing (KES) employee are fully investigated and the appropriate corrective steps, if warranted, are taken. Out of respect for employee privacy, we do not publicly discuss specific details related to an allegation.”
The boy’s parents said they are now thinking about filing a lawsuit against both Kelly Services and the Clay County School District.