EAST ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) - Two Head Start teachers in East St. Louis are on paid administrative leave after allegations that preschoolers were forced to strip off all of their clothes as part of punishment for misbehaving.
The teachers and students are part of the Head Start program operated by Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center.
"Children would misbehave in class and the teacher would have them disrobe and stand them, make them stand inside a closet for five or 10 minutes as their discipline. Then they would redress and join the class," said SIUE Police Chief Kevin Schmoll.
According to Chief Schmoll, 4 of the 20 students in the class were forced to take their clothes off. The students are 4 and 5-years-old. Schmoll said this form of punishment had been going on since early February but that police were only notified last week.
"We felt that was very inappropriate and possible there's some criminal action and some charges could come from this," said Schmoll.
As word spread through the community about the allegations, residents told News 4 they were outraged.
"As a mother myself, I can't believe they would let something like this go on," said Lakysha Jeffries.
Marquis Ginger told News 4, "Something needs to be done to the teachers as far as what's going on."
Police said the teacher accused of disciplining students inappropriately is 26-years old and has been a Head Start teacher at the center for three years. A second teacher, aged 41 with five years’ experience in the program, was also put on paid administrative leave for allegedly seeing the students forced to take their clothes off and not reporting it.
A representative with the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s office is expected to be there when the children are more thoroughly interviewed at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Belleville in two weeks. Charges could come after that.
UPDATE [March 19, 2019 at 11:50 a.m.]
After the News 4 report aired, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation issued the following statement:
The SIUE Head Start Program leases space at the back of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center however the program is run completely independently from the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center programming and Foundation. Our staff was in no way involved in this alleged incident and had no knowledge of what happened in this case. As a Foundation that dedicates itself to improving the lives of children, we were deeply saddened to hear this alleged incident occurred and know that appropriate legal actions are being taken.