PRINCETON — Three lawsuits were filed against the Mercer County Board of Education alleging children were mistreated at Cumberland Heights Early Learning Center in Bluefield and an aide was retaliated against when she reported the incidents.
B.H., a minor, and his parents J.H. and Br.H.; and A.G., a minor, and her parents Ad.G. and S.G., claimed B.H. and A.G. were abused by Alma Belcher, a teacher.
B.H.'s suit claims B.H., a special needs child, was abused by Belcher and was punished by having his hands glued together. He was also verbally abused and his mouth and nose were covered to stop him from crying that caused him to suffocate.
His suit claims that he was "illegally and repeatedly" placed in a restraint chair for long periods of time and he was placed alone in the chair in a separate room—sometimes with the lights off–and his hair and arms were pulled.
B.H. was only 3 years old, according to the suit.
"Upon information and belief, Defendant’s Belcher’s abuse and neglect was repeatedly reported by a teacher’s aide to Defendants (Steve) Hayes and (Deborah) Akers," the complaint states. "Defendants Hayes and Akers were likewise notified that B.H. was just one of several children whom Defendant Belcher abused and neglected."
In the second lawsuit, A.G., who was 5 years old, began not wanting to go to school.
"Beginning early this school year a student in A.G.’s class began bullying her," the complaint states. "Among other things, that student threatened to 'cut' A.G. and on at least one occasion physically assaulted A.G. in the bathroom. A.G.’s father initially notified school personnel."
Despite knowing of the incidents of bullying, Belcher placed A.G. at the same lunch table as the bullying student and that student's cousin. when A.G. was scared to move from her seat, Belcher "slammed A.G. into the lunch table to force her back into her seat," the complaint states.
In January, Belcher reportedly grabbed A.G. by the backpack and pushed her, according to the suit.
"While doing so, Defendant Belcher pulled out some of A.G.’s hair," the complaint states. "That same day Defendant Belcher grabbed A.G. by the arms, shook her and screamed in her face. Defendant Belcher then forced A.G. to sit on the classroom rug beside the bullying student."
The complaint states that A.G. then told her father about Belcher's abuse that night.
The third complaint was filed by Amanda Shrewsbury, the aide from Belcher's classroom.
Shrewsbury claims she a total of 57 complaints regarding Belcher's misconduct to Hayes.
Hayes threatened Shrewsbury's employment if she cooperated with Child Protective Services and police regarding their potential investigation of Belcher’s mistreatment of students, according to the suit.
"By that time Plaintiff had made dozens of complaints about Defendant Belcher’s misconduct to Defendants Hayes and/or Akers, as well as other MCBOE personnel," the complaint states. "Plaintiff was told by Defendant Hayes later that day that her services were no longer needed at his school since her job had been offered to and accepted by another MCBOE employee. She thereafter lost her teaching aide position that was supposed to last the remainder of the school year."
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages with pre- and post-judgment interest. The plaintiffs are represented by JB Akers of Akers Law Offices.