PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Two special education attorneys think the U.S. Department of Education should investigate a Phoenix school where a teacher is accused of putting a pencil down the pants of a 10-year-old student with autism.
Prosecutors have charged the Phoenix teacher, 56-year-old Vicki Biddle Martin, with felony aggravated assault.
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights could involve a review of the policies and training procedures at Justine Spitalny Elementary School to ensure all special needs students are treated properly, attorneys Hope Kirsch and Lori Kirsch-Goodwin said.
Hope Kirsch said the district should add additional sensitivity training so a similar incident doesn’t happen again.
“It's not just bad judgement, it humiliates a child,” she said.
The attorneys, who are not involved with the case, said they were concerned by the amount of time it took the Cartwright School District to notify parents about the incident.
“If I was a parent of a child at that school, I would be outraged that I wasn't notified right away,” Kirsch-Goodwin said.
The incident happened at Spitalny Elementary School near 43rd Avenue and Thomas Road on Nov. 28.
According to court documents, the teacher told police the student’s “butt crack” was showing while the 10-year-old was standing in the library at the counter. She said it was a “very poor decision” to put the eraser end of the pencil about half an inch or more down the student’s “crack.”
The school librarian told police Martin put a pencil down the student’s pants twice, but only realized what had happened the second time. Someone notified the police on Dec. 13.
The student told police he wasn’t hurt but felt embarrassed by the incident. Martin is charged with intentionally touching a minor with intent to insult or provoke him, a class 6 felony.
Many children with autism have sensory issues and may not realize how clothing fits on their body, according to the special education attorneys.
“This teacher should have taken the child aside. Maybe even gotten a male teacher involved,” Kirsch said.
When news of the arrest broke Wednesday, the Cartwright Elementary School District sent a letter to parents informing them “of an incident… surrounding a teacher in which police were involved.” The letter provided no further details.
The district did not respond to questions about whether Martin was still employed or if she had been disciplined in the past.
Kirsch said the district’s delay in notifying parents is “reprehensible.”
“Common sense tells you this is a bad thing that happened. We [the district] need to alert our community that we're doing something,” Kirsch said. “Don't just wait until this becomes a legal issue. Do what's right. Do what's ethical. Do what's moral.”
A reporter attempted to reach Martin at home for comment Wednesday but no one answered the door. She is scheduled to appear in court next month.