Two agencies say a preschool teacher used excessive force to feed a child, causing large bruises on both sides of the toddler's face.
Reports from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and DCF say investigators watched surveillance video from July 27, 2017 that clearly show a teacher at The King's Academy Preschool in Royal Palm Beach pushing the child's head back and forcing food into her mouth, then grabbing her cheeks to put food in her mouth.
The School's president is denying that account and says the teacher was helping the choking student and was sticking her fingers inside the child's mouth to pull food out.
The department of health said the mother brought up questions to the school when the child came home with two bruises that looked like fingerprints on the child's cheeks. The report says that the director of the school reviewed the video and said there was nothing unusual. When the parents demanded to see the video, the report says the director realized she had looked at the wrong date.
The sheriff's office report said after detectives obtained a subpoena through the State Attorney's Office, the school released the video to them. It showed that the teacher was "pushing the child's head back. She appeared to force food into the child's mouth at least twice. She was gripping the child's face with her hand, which is consistent with the bruises I observed in the pictures," the report said.
DCF's report also said an investigator observed the same behavior and that the assistant teacher in the room reported that the teacher "said to the child open-open and swallow and was yelling at the child who was crying loudly"
The school said it terminated both teachers involved because the interaction was not in line with school safety and security standards.
The Health Department said the school failed to call DCF's abuse hotline or health department within 24 hours of the incident. DCF determined there was maltreatment of the child.
The School President said it fully cooperated with authorities and claims there are inaccuracies in the Health Department's report, but did not say whether he believes DCF and the Sheriff's reports are also innaccurate.
Statement from Randal Martin, President of The King's Academy Preschool:
"At The King’s Academy Preschool (TKAP), our utmost concern is the safety and security of our students. We are proud of the quality care and education that we provide. TKAP has operated an award-winning facility in Royal Palm Beach for more than nine years, serving hundreds of precious students.
Today, we received a report from the Palm Beach County Department of Health regarding an incident that occurred several months ago. While we are still reviewing the report, we have noted a number of inaccuracies in it. We will communicate with the Department to attempt to correct these errors.
On July 27, 2017, an incident occurred at our Royal Palm Beach location involving a teacher and one of our students. In the process of clearing food from the mouth of a choking student, the teacher pinched the cheeks of the child. This one-time interaction was recorded on TKAP’s security cameras and resulted in temporary bruising. In two subsequent interactions with the child’s mother, I was grateful to hear that the child was well, both physically and emotionally.
However, this interaction was not consistent with the safety and security standards that we have upheld during the more than nine years that The King’s Academy Preschool has operated—without any negative inspection or finding. It was also not consistent with the teacher’s performance during her 2½ years of employment—without a single complaint. This interaction was certainly not normal practice for a TKAP employee and was not in line with the standard of excellence we expect at The King’s Academy Preschool. As a result, the employees involved in the incident are no longer employed by The King’s Academy Preschool.
When the school’s administration was notified, we reviewed the video of the incident and self-reported the incident to the Florida Department of Children and Families and informed the child’s parents. We have fully cooperated with authorities investigating this matter including DCF, the Palm Beach County Department of Health, and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. We have also provided copies of the video of the incident to DCF and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Additionally, we regularly evaluate and improve TKAP’s policies and procedures and enhance training for our faculty and staff. We remain committed to providing quality care and education for families in Palm Beach County."
WPTV NewsChannel 5 was able to speak with the Teacher's assistant also fired. She said she was in the room and remembered the child crying while being fed, but did not remember what force the teacher may have been using. She never said the child was choking.