BROOKSVILLE — Moton Elementary School paraprofessional Charles Giarratana said he was trying to protect a wheelchair-bound student from being pushed out of his chair.
The problem, he admits, was with how he did it.
As a result, Giarratana was suspended for two days and voluntarily agreed to transfer to Central High School as an special needs paraprofessional. He began Monday.
"As you have been successful in the past working with students of an older age, this assignment may be more suited to your strengths," superintendent Bryan Blavatt wrote in a letter, concluding the district's investigation.
On the way back from breakfast on Oct. 16, Giarratana, in his first year with Moton, was pushing a wheelchair-bound student's chair while holding another special needs student's hand.
The autistic student pushed the wheelchair to the side, causing the wheels to lift off the ground, Giarratana wrote in a statement. Acting instinctively, Giarratana said he smacked the student's hand, making a sound.
There was no visible discoloration on either hand, wrote principal Mark Griffith in a letter.
"We understand that your position is that you were acting in response to a safety concern for another child, but regardless of the circumstances, such inappropriate actions on your part do not reflect positively on your position," Blavatt wrote.
While Giarratana admitted he smacked the student's hand and that it was inappropriate, he never reported the incident to the administration.
It was first reported by a teacher who witnessed the incident.
Following the slap, Giarratana was immediately pulled from student contact.
He wrote that nothing in his work with high school students had prepared him how to alert a nonverbal student to the inappropriateness of tipping over a wheelchair-bound peer.
"I see the boundary never again to be crossed," Giarratana wrote.
He's been with the district since 1999 in a series of special needs positions, and he also worked as a teacher at Nature Coast Technical High School for a year and a half.
Before that, he was a minister for 11 years and a social worker for two, working with developmentally and emotionally disabled adults.
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. Tweet him @HernandoTimes.