BARTOW, Fla. -- A para-educator in Bartow was arrested after police say she struck a disabled student in the face.
It happened at Jean O'Dell Learning Center on Dec. 4. Pamela Ann Murphy was reportedly observed hitting the disabled child, sparking an investigation.
A witness said the 7-year-old student, who is non-verbal and intellectually disabled, became upset and started to kick his feet toward Murphy, at which point she hit him in the face with an open hand.
During the investigation, the witness said this was not the first incident of abuse involving Murphy.
Back in November, Murphy was reportedly seen "acting inappropriately with a 10-year-old disabled female student, calling the child a b**** and pouring water on her head.
Based on these incidents, officers arrested Murphy and charged her with two counts of Child Abuse.
ABC Action News went to the Polk County School District and learned Murphy has a reported history of problems with abuse of students.
Her disciplinary record with the school district stretches back as far as 2001.
On November 29, 2001, the principal at Southwest Elementary Village in Lakeland said that two days prior, Pam Murphy, a substitute paraprofessional, was involved in an incident with a fifth-grade student.
The letter says the incident occurred in the lunchroom when Murphy attempted to correct talking in the inch line by taking child by the arm to move the child to the back of line.
The school resource officer conducted an investigation that determined Murphy "was of a rough nature" with the child, the letter reads.
The letter goes on to say that the child's parents said there were injuries to the child's back and neck and will miss several days of school.
"As a result of the incident and Officer Vicker's investigation, I will not hire Mrs. Pam Murphy again at this school," said Richard Dobler, principal at Southwest Elementary School, in the letter to the director of employee relations.
On March 3, 2010, the principal at Medulla Elementary in Lakeland, Jill Cheatham, said that Murphy slapped a special needs student who was seated with his ESE class and a fourth-grade class.
The student refused multiple requests to remove the hood from his head, a letter from Cheatham to Gail Kinzie, the school superintendent at the time reads.
Cheatham said that Murphy went up to the student and tried to take off the hood herself and the student held the hood with his hands. Murphy slapped his hands in front of 30 other students and five staff members, the letter reads.
"I request that you consider suspending Mrs. Murphy without pay for a period of one to five days," Cheatham's letter to the superintendent reads. The district suspended Murphy shortly after.
ABC Action News went to the Polk County School district to ask why the district hired Murphy again to work with students despite her previous disciplinary record.
Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd refused to go on camera in response to our questions as to how and why Murphy was allowed to work around children despite her previous disciplinary record. Instead, Byrd released the following statement:
I have absolutely no tolerance for child abuse. This employee has been the subject of disciplinary action for similar behavior – once in 2001 and again in 2010. In each instance, she was disciplined – although in my opinion, not to the extent she should have been. Under my leadership, the safety and welfare of our students is and always will be paramount. This employee has been placed on leave so that we can conduct a thorough internal investigation, and we are cooperating fully with our partners in law enforcement. Once the investigation is complete, if these allegations are true, I will use the full authority of my position in disciplining this employee – up to and including termination.
ABC Action News is waiting for the school district's human resources department to respond.
The following message was sent to parents this evening via automated telephone calls and emails:
This is a message from Polk County Public Schools.
Today, the Bartow Police Department arrested Pamela Murphy, a para-educator at the Jean O’Dell Learning Center, on charges of child abuse involving two students, striking one and pouring water on another.
Ms. Murphy has been placed on administrative leave while we conduct an internal investigation.
We take these allegations very seriously, and we will not tolerate child abuse. The welfare of our students is our greatest concern, and we insist that their learning environment be nurturing and safe.
Polk County Public Schools is cooperating fully with the law enforcement investigation.
Because this is an ongoing investigation, we ask that you direct any questions or concerns to the Bartow Police Department at (863) 534-5034.
ABC Action News went to Murphy's listed address, where the person who answered the door said they had nothing to say.
Murphy went before a judge Tuesday morning where her bond was set at $5,000.