Margaret Wolthers, a teacher in Florida, and her teaching aides, Diana LaCroix and Carolyn Madison, have been arrested after abusing autistic students assigned to their care at Silver Sands School. Now, the women are facing first-degree felony charges.
A fellow teaching aide first reported the abuse after witnessing the employees’ behavior. She filed a report with the Okaloosa Sheriff’s office which started investigating more on the matter. The cruel women reportedly locked the children in dark bathrooms and blew whistles in their ears as a method of punishment. After further investigation, the three of them were arrested.
The Silver Sands School which is a part of the Okaloosa County School District has an educational program for students with autism. Parents were shocked to learn the news after trusting the school with their children’s education and care.
The official school brochure reads:
The school serves students aged three to twenty-two who have cognitive disabilities. The curriculum is in accordance with Florida standards through Access Points.
Okaloosa County Sheriff, Lary Ashley informed that they were informed about the abuse in the last few months of 2018, while they suspect the abuse had been going on for a longer period and there are probably other victims in addition to those reported. The school’s program is for students aged three to twenty-two, while the victims of the trios abuse were eight to ten years old.
Sheriff Ashley said:
Classroom aides who witnessed the incidents say the victims would scream and cry when placed in the bathroom, and that one was contained for up to 90 minutes. They considered it an acceptable practice.
In case children don’t behave or get out of control, the teachers are allowed to call on the principal, the school resource officer, or the parents of the children. However, the trio “intentionally and maliciously” tortured the children using cruel methods.
Further reports say that Wolthers and her aides forced three students “on separate occasions, individually” into the classroom bathroom where they would lock the students after turning off the lights to make the room pitch dark. If the children tried to turn the lights on or open the door, Wolthers and her aides would leave them in the bathroom for longer.
One person who witnessed the incident revealed that the children would “scream and cry” when taken to the bathroom.
One of the children subjected to the abuse was wearing headphones to protect him from loud noises, and had a loud whistle blown in his ear.
The arrest report reads:
[The student has] low sensory threshold (ears) and wears earphones to protect him from the pain of loud noises.
Wolthers, LaCroix, and Madison threated the children with the whistle many times “to correct his behavior.”
Sheriff Ashley and School Superintended, Marcus Chambers, announced the arrest during a press conference on January 28. They informed that the teacher and her aide will be facing serious felony charges.
According to the Florida state stature, the three women carry a maximum prison sentence of 30 years, as well as a fine of up to $10,000.
People took to social media to react to the shocking news and express their disgust.
One person tweeted:
Margaret Wolthers and aides Diana LaCroix and Carolyn Madison need to be expunged from our society. These are the vilest, most backward, and most despicable types that walk among us. The people of Fort Walton should remind these monsters daily that they are not welcome.
Another one said:
As a mother of a 22-year-old autistic son, I cannot even read this. I am a complete pacifist but I would have to be physically removed from anyone who did this to him.
As someone on the spectrum with a hypersensitivity to sound, I can tell you that this would be legitimately torture and would be a first class ticket to setting off more meltdowns not less. Neurotypical folks have NO IDEA how horrific this really is.
— Kaiserin Kai 🌹 Loves Dazai (@KaiserinKai) January 29, 2019
You can post this gif twice a week. Geez pic.twitter.com/tjw2op7H72
— St. N!ck유™ (@buhloone) January 29, 2019
Man this is so wrong on all levels. WTH… pic.twitter.com/JaZZJy5R8s
— Living Word Yehuda Shabbat (@LivingWordGosp1) January 30, 2019
The County Sheriff’s office and the school district were asked how do they plan to prevent such cases from happening in the future, to which Superintendent Chambers replied:
Moving forward, we have to be very vigilant in terms of our training [with our teachers] and that is one of the things we are looking at right now. I have actually asked the Department of Education to come in and look at our ESE department and give us very specific recommendations.
Hopefully, the children affected will heal from the trauma and no one ever experiences something like this again.