Georgia mom Shana Marie Perez says she could only stand by helplessly, pretending to text, in order to at least capture evidence of the moments her child’s principal paddled him on video.
The video may be hard for many to watch. Perez’s young son Thomas cries and pleads with his principal not to hit him. His crime was spitting on another student, an offense that the principal at Jasper Primary School deemed reason enough to strike a 5-year-old boy with a wooden paddle that is nearly as large as the child himself.
The principal, along with another woman, have to make repeated attempts to get the child into position for his paddling, and throughout it all, he screams and cries, attempting to hide his backside. At one point, he even cries out for his mother for assistance, yelling, “Mommy, help me!”
And in a mystifying attempt to calm the child, the principal promises she’ll only strike Thomas “one time,” while her accomplice agrees that it will just be one hit “unless you wiggle around.”
Perez said there is an ongoing dispute between her and the school administrators in regard to her son’s truancy and excessive tardiness. Perez admits that her son Thomas has missed 18 days so far this year, and the school says the child has also been tardy on at least 20 occasions. Without releasing any details, Perez states that her son has an underlying medical condition and that his absences are due to his medical problems.
Furthermore, Perez says that the school administrators have already had her arrested once for her son’s truancy, and when the paddling incident occurred on Wednesday, she was out of jail on bond. She feared that if her son missed another day of school, her bond would be revoked.
“They told me if he could not get a paddling he would have to be suspended and if he got suspended for even one day I WILL go to jail for truancy,” she wrote in the Facebook post accompanying one of the three videos she took under the guise of texting. “I could not go to jail or my kids would have nothing.”
Perez says that the principal told her if she intervened with her son’s paddling, her son would be suspended, and that suspension would be another absence. And so, faced with what she believed to be a choice between allowing the principal to paddle her son over a behavioral issue, or going to jail because if she allowed them to suspend him, it would be yet another absence marked against them both, Perez stood by helplessly while two grown women forced her son into place and paddled him.
Perez took a total of three videos. She posted only the two leading up to the paddling on her Facebook page, choosing not to post the actual event.
In a statement to NBC News, Jasper County Sheriff Donnie Pope verified that records show Perez’s son has a total of 18 unexcused absences, as well as more than 20 “excessive tardiness” incidents.
However, Pope states that Shana Marie Perez would not have been arrested for the suspension, had she chosen to go that route with her son.
“Ms. Perez would NOT have been re-arrested for the suspension in question… The sheriff’s office would not have pursued criminal charges based on the fact that an out of school suspension would not have shown negligence on the part of Ms. Perez since OSS absences are not within the parent’s control. After reviewing the facts of this case, no probable cause exists to substantiate the commission of a crime.”
Jasper Primary School is not unique among schools in its disciplinary philosophy. Almost half of all schools in Georgia allow administrators to paddle students, as long as the school has consent from the child’s parent. Perez says she believes she signed a form at the beginning of the school year that should have prohibited anyone paddling her son, but school administrators dispute that.
The Jasper County School District released a statement, saying that it “is aware of the video released by Ms. Perez. Unfortunately, the district is barred by state and federal law from commenting about the specifics of this incident. The district respects every student’s right to privacy.”
The statement added that under school rules, which it says are provided to all parents, corporal punishment is permitted “as one of the consequences of behavior.”
“When corporal punishment is used, it is with parental consent. The district is investigating the incident and looking into its discipline policies at this time.”
School is a place where children should be able to feel safe, and a place where parents should feel that their children are being cared for when sending them there. For Shana Marie Perez and her 5-year-old son, neither felt safe at their school on Wednesday.
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