A Georgia special education teacher was recently accused of holding an autistic boy upside-down, then placing him head-first in a trash can. She now claims she was attempting to “calm him.”
Mary Katherine Pursley’s reaction to the screaming second-grader was to liken him to Oscar the Grouch of Sesame Street fame and then “shake” the “grouchy” out of him.
“It was to shake out. Like a shake shaker or to shake his grouchys.”
Pursley’s use of “childish” speak to describe her actions—and not simply in her interactions with the children—is discomfiting, and perhaps suggests an attempt to disguise the deliberate, adult violence in her actions.
But Pursley insists that she was had a loving relationship with the child, that she was joking around him when she did this, but by her own admission the child was not in any “joking” mood.
“He was crying. He was screaming already, very loudly.”
Investigator Chris Dowd echoed this when relating the student’s testimony:
"His demeanor changed. He clenched his fist and got visibly angry and stated, she makes me so angry, I just want to get away from her."
Pursley has been charged with child cruelty, and the school system has taken steps to fire her. The teacher requested she be allowed to plead her case before a tribunal in an effort to keep her job.
She told the tribunal that the child had begun hitting other students and she felt she had to intervene.
“If he was continuing to talk trashy – that trashy talk, trashy behavior – belonged in the trash can"
The criminal warrant notes that ““the victim was crying, screaming and yelling ‘stop’ during this time.”
Eileen Riley-Hall, author of “Parenting Girls on the Autism Spectrum,” and a teacher herself, suggests the following steps be taken to care for an autistic children during a tantrum:
“The basic thing is to hold them and calm them and wait until they can calm down themselves.”
“Just keep them safe and soothe them in whatever way you know works until they can recover."
But Pursley failed to exercise such gentleness, such compassion, in dealing with her student.