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Pinellas school clerk resigns after investigators find she beat student with a belt

ST. PETERSBURG — A student who disrupted class at Campbell Park Elementary School was beaten with a belt by the school's front office clerk in the nurse's clinic, according to school system documents.

The school's nurse closed the door to muffle the child's screams, while a school volunteer gave clerk Tonya Robinson the belt she used on the first-grade student, according to witnesses.

Robinson, 38, resigned last week after learning officials would recommend she be fired. The aide knew the child's family and sought permission from the boy's mother to "spank" him with a belt.

Corporal punishment is against Pinellas County schools policy.

Diana Oliveira, a social worker with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, saw the incident and told investigators that Markita Lattimer, the school's nurse, closed the clinic's door "as if to conceal what was occurring because she could hear it at the front office."

Oliveira heard cries, screams of "no," and striking noises.

Lattimer reports to the Pinellas Health Department, which has reassigned her out of the school. The cafeteria volunteer who is alleged to have provided the belt will no longer be volunteering in Pinellas schools, district spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra said.

Parra said Campbell Park parents had not been notified about the Jan. 21 incident because it was an "isolated event."

"Because the investigators did not find any indication that this situation had occurred with other students, they did not feel it was necessary to notify other parents about this incident," Parra said.

Oliveira said that when the boy first came to the front office, Robinson told him to be quiet, but he didn't listen. After calling the boy's mother, Robinson took him into the nurse's clinic. "She yelled at (him) to get in there," referring to the clinic's bathroom, Oliveira said. Shortly thereafter, Lattimer closed the clinic door.

In an interview with investigators, the child said he had gotten in trouble for throwing a chair. He told assistant principal Christine Hoffman that Robinson had retrieved him from class, brought him to the front office, then "she whooped me with a belt."

The report did not give the child's age, but noted his teacher's name, who teaches first-grade. Most first-graders are 6 or 7 years old.

The boy told investigators that it happened in the bathroom of the clinic. "He said it hurt," investigator John Zegzdryn wrote.

The boy said he had been hit on his legs but that the marks had gone away.

In an interview with Valencia Walker, the administrator of the Office of Professional Standards, Robinson said she was given the belt by a cafeteria volunteer, Shaquanna Shelton, 31. In an interview, Shelton supported Robinson's actions. "Do you know how many kids give that lady issues? Do you know how many kids in that school need a whooping?"

Zegzdryn said that because there were no visible injuries on the child, and because Robinson had received permission from his mother, no criminal charges were being sought.

Lattimer, the nurse, told investigators the incident never happened.

Surveillance video of the hallway outside the clinic shows Robinson walking in with the boy at 9:57 a.m. and the clinic door closing at 10:01 a.m.

Robinson declined to comment when reached by phone Thursday. She was reassigned to the district's warehouse for the duration of the investigation.

Robinson began working for the district as a food service assistant at Campbell Park in 2010. She then became a clerk for the school and received strong marks in a February 2013 evaluation. Administrators described her as a "self-starter" with "great job knowledge."

Contact Lisa Gartner at lgartner@tampabay.com. Follow her on Twitter (@lisagartner).

Pinellas school clerk resigns after investigators find she beat student with a belt 02/06/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 7, 2014 12:04am]
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