MANCHESTER — A former teacher at Jewett Street School was sent to jail for seven days this week, after pleading guilty to three assault charges against a 6-year-old student. One involved putting pepper on the girl’s tongue, prosecutors said.
Donna Varney, 55, is the second Manchester special-education teacher to plead guilty this year to misdemeanor abuse charges involving their students. Varney was also ordered to relinquish any teaching credentials, undergo a mental health exam, and accept no job or volunteer position that puts her in a position of authority over young children or handicapped people.
Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance said the cases are the only two teacher-student assaults she’s dealt with in her two years as the county’s top prosecutor. Although both are from Manchester schools, she stressed there are only two and she has no evidence of a cover-up or systemic problem.
“I certainly wouldn’t call it an epidemic,” LaFrance said.
According to a statement issued by LaFrance’s office:
• In November 2012, Varney threatened to put pepper in the mouth of a child who refused to behave and do her school work. She later brought the child to a sink and placed pepper on her tongue.
• A few months later, Varney brought the same child to a sink and put soap in her mouth.
• In the spring of 2013, Varney flicked a book in the student’s face when she hyperextended her neck backwards.
The statement said paraprofessionals witnessed at least two of the assaults, but they were not reported until April 2013.
Paraprofessional were prepared to testify that they were shocked and felt Varney’s conduct was unnecessary and inappropriate.
LaFrance said she assumes the paraprofessionals held off reporting the assaults because of Varney’s role as classroom teacher.
“I’m glad they finally did report it. Why it took so long, you would have to ask them,” LaFrance said. She said she’s not sure if the actions would fall under the state law that mandates the reporting of child abuse and neglect.
In April, former McLaughlin Middle School teacher Marine Gambale, 56, pleaded guilty to tying one student to a chair, and pushing and dragging another student.
Gambale was given a suspended sentence, relinquished her teaching credentials and was ordered to continue mental health firstname.lastname@example.org