NC teacher says she resigned after being groped by student
A Chatham County elementary school teacher says the lack of support she received after being groped in class by a student was the breaking point that caused her to quit her job in the middle of the school year.
Amanda Velleco was the first-grade team leader at Chatham Grove Elementary School in Pittsboro until Feb. 1. In a Feb. 14 email to the superintendent and school board, Velleco says the school failed to address weeks of escalating behavioral issues with a 6-year-old student that ultimately led to the girl inappropriately touching the teacher’s private parts in front of the class on Dec. 8.
“I feel failed by Chatham County Schools and that my well-being was not a priority,” Velleco wrote in her letter. “Staff members deserve to feel that their place of work ensures the safety of not only students but themselves as well.”
Velleco says she’s speaking out publicly in hopes it will lead to changes so that it doesn’t happen to other teachers.
”If a teacher says there’s inappropriate touching, there needs to be an automatic response,” Velleco said in an interview with The News & Observer. “The lack of a response was completely unacceptable.”
Nancy Wykle, a Chatham County schools spokeswoman, said she couldn’t discuss the incident due to student and employee confidentiality laws.
Behavioral issues with students
Velleco, who has six years of teaching experience in Rhode Island and in Chatham County, said it’s been especially hard teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. In her letter, she writes that the hybrid learning model of in-person and online instruction used last school year was a disaster.
She was featured in a December 2020 article in Education Week about how teachers are trying to keep students engaged in online math classes.
A shortened version of Velleco’s letter, which doesn’t mention the Dec. 8 incident, was read by a parent on her behalf at the Feb. 14 school board meeting. In that version, Velleco urged the school board to drop the face mask mandate because she said masking is leading to obstacles in speech development as well as social skills for students.
Chatham County would go on to make masks optional in March.
Schools across the nation have dealt with staffing shortages, including for teachers. Velleco says the start of this school year was particularly stressful as she tried to help three first-year teachers on Chatham Grove’s first-grade team.
“The first few weeks of school were HARD,” Velleco wrote in her email to district leaders. “Not only was I trying to keep my teammates afloat and be positive but I had so many behavioral issues in my room. It became very apparent that these 6-year-olds were not ready to return ‘business as usual.’”
‘I felt so alone’
Velleco says the most difficult of those behavioral issues was a 6-year-old girl who was identified as being developmentally delayed. Even before the Dec. 8 incident, Velleco wrote that the student would leave the classroom without permission, throw things across the classroom, tear things off the walls and stand on chairs, desks and counters.
Velleco also wrote that the student would kick, hit and pull the teacher’s hair and would frequently invade her personal space while she was mid-lesson. She said she documented these problems but they weren’t addressed by the school.
“I have some kids who have been in class with that child since Pre-K,” Velleco said in an interview. “Their parents said they didn’t want her to sit in the same desk as their child.”
It rapidly got out of control on Dec. 8.
“One day this student attempted to put her head up my dress and she started grabbing at my breasts and genital region repeatedly,” Velleco wrote in the letter. “I used my walkie talkie to call for help but all I heard was ‘____ did you copy?’
“Nobody ever came to my rescue. I felt so alone at that moment but I had a class of 15 other first graders who were all looking to me to help them learn.”
Velleco says she took two days off to regroup, during which she asked the principal to provide a part-time assistant to work with the child. Velleco says that an assistant was only provided for five days between Dec. 13 and Feb. 1.
Over winter break, Velleco said she came to the decision that she no longer loved teaching and that she should resign for her physical and mental well-being. In her resignation letter, dated Jan. 3, Velleco asked to speak with a member of the district’s Human Resources Department to air her concerns during an exit interview.
Velleco says no one from the district contacted her about an exit interview or about her later Feb. 14 email.
Make parents start ‘parenting again’
Velleco says some of the issues could have been dealt with sooner. Instead of receiving out-of-school suspensions, Velleco says the girl was allowed to stay in class and “steal learning time” from her classmates with her disruptive behavior.
“This largely why I left l teaching a few weeks ago,” Velleco tweeted on Feb. 21. “Allowing students to harm their teacher w/o a consequence sends a HORRIBLE message to their peers.
“It creates a tumultuous learning environment where students are able to hijack the learning of their peers.”
Out-of-school suspensions are sharply down in North Carolina and across the nation as part of an effort to find alternative ways to discipline students.
But there’s been a backlash, with a growing percentage of educators saying on the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey that schools aren’t consistently enforcing rules for student conduct.
At a February legislative committee meeting, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson said North Carolina public schools have become unsafe places because disruptive students aren’t being disciplined for their bad behavior.
Velleco said a tougher stand on school discipline could force parents to respond.
“If you make it the parents’ problem that they’re suspended, the parent will have to start parenting again,” Velleco said. “That’s not being done at home. Teachers are expected to parent and teach. I don’t have time to do both.”
This story was originally published March 25, 2022 2:57 PM.