ST. ALBANS — Allegations of verbal and physical abuse by a teacher at St. Albans Consolidated School are being investigated by the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office.

Parents of students in kindergarten teacher Sharon Deagle’s classroom have started a petition to have her removed from the school, which is in Newport-based Regional School Unit 19. The school district suspended Deagle recently, the sheriff’s office confirmed Tuesday, though the school department would not confirm that.

“I don’t want her to teach here anymore,” said Gail Getchell, whose 5-year-old daughter, Kaleigh, is a kindergarten student in Deagle’s classroom. “The kids are being abused. I don’t want to see her (Deagle) go to another district either, since it will just continue. I hope the district does something about it and takes us seriously.”

About a dozen parents who gathered on Tuesday morning at St. Albans Community Playground said Deagle has been suspended from the school since mid-April after the teacher allegedly used excessive force against a student that they say caused a scratch on his hip while she was breaking up a fight. They are concerned about her potential return to the classroom.

RSU 19 interim Superintendent Ray Freve and St. Albans Consolidated School Principal Richard Fernald would not confirm Deagle’s suspension and declined to comment on the parents’ allegations. Deagle wouldn’t return calls or a note left at her home seeking comment for this story.

“Until we finish dealing with it, if we’re dealing with it at all, I can’t comment,” Freve said.

Anne Gabbianelli, director of communications for the Maine Department of Education, said she could not say whether the department has received any complaints about Deagle.

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said Tuesday that his office is investigating the excessive force complaint and “it is my understanding that the teacher has been placed on leave while the investigation is ongoing.”

ONLINE PETITION, DUE PROCESS

An online petition started Monday demands Deagle’s immediate termination from the district and by Tuesday afternoon had garnered 70 signatures, including some from outside the district.

“It is standard procedure for school employees to be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation,” Giovanna Bechard, director of communications for the Maine Education Association, the state teachers’ union, said in a statement. “Investigations into school employees are confidential personnel matters. Employees in RSU 19 are entitled to due process and representation from the Maine Education Association.”

According to the parents who gathered Tuesday morning at the playground, all of whom have children at the school, Deagle has a history of being verbally abusive or physically aggressive and has in the past issued bizarre punishments or policies that the parents don’t agree with.

Several parents said they heard stories about Deagle’s behavior in the classroom before their children were enrolled in her class, but dismissed them until a recent incident in which a child was scratched. The incident prompted them to report it to police and the superintendent.

“We heard the stories but chalked it up to rumors,” said Rob Poindexter, whose daughter Addison is in Deagle’s class. “Usually in a small town you take what you hear and divide it by two, but it’s worse than what we heard.”

Poindexter’s wife, Tiffany Young-Poindexter, said their daughter has been potty-trained for years, so they were surprised when the school told them she wet her pants in school this year. They and other parents blame a bathroom use policy that prohibits kindergarten students from using a restroom in the classroom during work time.

“She’s basically punishing the children for having to do bodily functions that we all have to do,” said Young-Poindexter, 40.

The Poindexters said they brought the bathroom policy up with Deagle during a parent-teacher conference. He said she defended it initially, but then said she would change it and apparently didn’t.

Freve, the interim superintendent, said there are no districtwide policies in RSU 19 involving bathroom use, though some teachers have adopted their own policies on it.

“Most schools that I’ve been in, if a kid isn’t feeling well or wants to go to the bathroom and they raise their hand and ask, they are usually allowed to go to the bathroom,” Freve said. “It’s like chewing gum. Some teachers don’t want kids chewing gum because they’ll stick it under the desk. Some say you can chew gum during recess and that’s it. Teachers can make rules in their homeroom. Some policies aren’t dictated by the school; they’re dictated by the classroom teacher.”

Getchell said her daughter has a learning disability and has reported to her that Deagle called her stupid. “Now she’s refusing to do her homework. It’s led to major self-esteem problems,” she said.

BREAKING POINT

The parents said their frustration reached the breaking point last month when one student, Isaac Collins, came home to his parents with a large scratch down his side.

His mother, Abigail Hewins, said her son was fighting with another student about a picture when the scratch happened.

“I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what happened; but I would think that if you go to grab a kid (to break up a fight), you would grab his arm and pull him away,” she said. “I don’t know if she (scratched my son) out of anger or if it was an accident; but if it was an accident, I would think it would be a small scratch or a pinch on the arm, not a huge thing down his side. I don’t know what she was doing.”

Isaac’s father, Corey Collins, said he contacted both the Maine State Police and the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office about the incident. Lancaster said his office was alerted to the case last Thursday and that Detective Jeremy Leal is investigating. Lancaster described the case as an “allegation of assault” and said that school officials also are conducting an internal investigation.

“There have been no charges at this time,” Lancaster said. “We are in communication with the district attorney’s office and the investigation is ongoing.”

Collins said, “If it had been me that had done that, the school would have called DHHS. There are circumstances when a teacher needs to touch a child, but she doesn’t need to grab him on the side like that.”

Hewins said there have been a “few other incidents” in Deagle’s classroom that have concerned her, including the rules about using the bathroom, which she said “forces the kids to pee their pants.”

NO HISTORY

Under state law, complaints or accusations against certified teachers are not public information, although certificates of dismissal, records of other disciplinary actions taken by a school board, transcripts of public hearings held by school boards, and court records and transcripts not under seal are public records.

Deagle has been certified with the Maine Department of Education since 2003 and her current certification is valid until July 1, 2016, according to Gabbianelli, of the education department, and the state never has suspended her certification. Information on Deagle’s employment history, including whether she has worked at other schools and how long she has worked in St. Albans, was not available from the department Tuesday.

In general, school employee issues are handled at the local level, Gabbianelli said. She said the education department does not have information on whether Deagle ever has been disciplined at the district level. Information on whether Deagle has been disciplined by the state was not immediately available Tuesday.

Gabbianelli said it is possible for a teacher to be re-certified if he or she has been cited for misconduct in the past.

Parents at Tuesday’s gathering said they are concerned that Deagle might return to the classroom in the near future.

“Knowing what I know, I can’t imagine sending my son (to her classroom),” said Kim Thibodeau, the mother of a pre-kindergarten student at the school. “It’s just not a possibility in my mind. I’m prepared to do what I have to do to fight it.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm