A Hillsborough County teacher is on paid administrative leave and out of her 6th grade classroom at Burns Middle School after parents accused her of abusing their children.
Anna Garrett, a 27-year veteran teacher with the district, is also under investigation by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, as they look into a spelling lesson she taught Wednesday that involved sandpaper.
"We had to trace letters like 'I' and 'J'," explained Josh Sommer, 11.
Josh says Ms. Garrett passed out previous exams with spelling corrections on them, and asked the students to trace the correct spelling on pieces of sandpaper.
They were instructed to trace each word five times. By the 125th word, Josh says his finger started to bleed.
"Then by the end of the time, my whole table was bleeding," he remembered.
When Josh and his classmates alerted Ms. Garrett, he says she told them to be quiet and keep working, so they did.
"I didn't want to get yelled at by my teacher," he said.
Darleanea Sommer admits her son's teacher has used edgy techniques in the past, but nothing like this.
"This is the only instance where he has been injured, and this will be the last," she said. "Makes me sick to my stomach. It's hurtful."
The school district will keep Garrett out of the classroom until the investigation is complete, at which point they'll determine whether she will keep her job.
However, spokesman Steve Hegarty doesn't believe abuse was a motive.
"There are some students complaining that it hurt their fingers and we don't think that's a good way to learn," he said. "I don't have any reason to believe that she was trying to abuse kids, but the outcome was not a good one. If kids hurt their fingers, that's not a good thing."
This is the second time in four months that Burns Middle School has drawn attention. In September, teachers were asked to be more sensitive after one staff member used a Ouija board as a prop.
The sandpaper incident also follows criticism of district incompetence in light of the deaths of two special needs students, and the arrest of a teacher for shoving her shoe in the face of a student with autism.
If Garrett gets her job back and returns to teaching at Burns Middle School, Darleanea says her son will not be there.
"My child was being hurt at school," said Darleanea, "where they're supposed to be taken care of."
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