SPRING HILL — The pre-kindergartener was a runner, the teacher said.
He could be out the classroom door and running toward the stairs at Explorer K-8 before 45-year-old Elisete Candelario could catch up, she told school officials later. So to keep the boy safe in her exceptional education class, Candelario put him in a chair with a Velcro belt restraint and wrapped tape over the strap and buckle.
"I know it was wrong," Candelario said in a personnel hearing last month, according to summary notes. "He can unzip or fasten anything. In just one minute he took the Velcro off, so I decided to use tape. He's very quick. It's very dangerous.
"I love my kids," she said. "I would not do anything to harm them."
Candelario resigned May 27 as district officials investigated allegations that she had improperly restrained the boy. The report became public record Monday.
"Sometimes I think people try to skip steps," superintendent Bryan Blavatt said. "I think that's a charitable way of saying it."
Candelario acknowledged that the boy's individualized education plan (IEP) did not list the Rifton chair as a tool for his restlessness but that she placed him in the chair as many as three times a day over the course of two weeks in early May. He quickly figured out how to unstrap the Velcro, so she wrapped the tape around the buckle, she said.
She told school officials she understands she erred by not asking administrators for help.
"I just decided to resolve the problem on my own," she said. "I thought that was the best way."
School officials notified the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Education's Office of Professional Practices.
A DCF spokesman said allegations of abuse by bizarre punishment were not substantiated.
Candelario, of Spring Hill, did not return a message left at her Spring Hill home.
Explorer principal John Stratton wrote to school officials that Candelario clearly showed poor judgment, but that he did not think she acted "in a malicious manner."
"She is extremely caring and I believe would not intend to harm any of her students," Stratton wrote.
The foster mother, when notified of Candelario's actions, said the same, Stratton wrote.
"The parent stated, 'I love Ms. Lizzie and know that she did not do this to harm or be mean to my child,' " Stratton wrote. "The mother also stated that due to his running, if she had a chair with a strap at home she might have done the same thing."
Candelario joined the district last August as an annual contract employee. She has seven years' experience as a teacher, including two years in Broward County, according to her personnel file.
"Anytime, no matter what you do, when you deviate from the accepted IEP, you're going to run into problems," Blavatt said. The tape, he said, only made the case worse.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]