Suit: Head Start employees allegedly forced child to strip naked and locked him in room

By John Breslin | Apr 25, 2019

EDWARDSVILLE -- Two employees of an East St. Louis pre-school program are accused of stripping a child naked and locking him in either a closet or a room.

The suit, filed April 17 in Madison County Circuit Court against a named individual and another person identified only by her first name, was filed by the mother, J.J., on behalf of her child, J.P.

"Plaintiff J.P., a minor, has a constitutional right to be free of being stripped down naked and placed by his teachers into a locked closet or room," the complaint states.

"In violation of this duty, defendants....acted as heretofore alleged, and one or more occasions, stripped down J.P., and locked him into a room while naked."

The suit, alleging the incident took place at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis, asks the court for compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $50,000.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Thomas Maag, told the Madison Record: "I don't speak to you folks. You have a nice day."

Douglas McIlhagga, marketing director at the Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, which manages the program, said it was not named as a defendant and, therefore, could not comment on the suit. McIlhagga did confirm two individuals are still on administrative leave.

Two members of staff were put on administrative leave in March as the center investigated allegations that children were told to take off their clothes and placed in a classroom closet, according to multiple news reports.

Southern Illinois Edwardsville police chief Kevn Schmoll was quoted as saying the two staff members were employed at the Head Start program.

Schmoll told reporters that it is alleged that students ages 4 and 5 were told to remove their clothes, told to stand in a closet for some minutes, then allowed to redress and come back to the class.

The department was first made aware of inappropriate behavior when a parent complained after hearing reports from her son, Schmoll said.

"Children would misbehave in class and the teacher would have them disrobe and stand them, make them stand inside a closet for five or 10 minutes as their discipline. Then they would redress and join the class," Schmoll told KMOV.

The police chief reportedly said it is alleged that four of 20 students in the class were forced to take their clothes off. He added that this type of punishment may have begun in early February but police were only notified in late March. 

"We felt that was very inappropriate and [it is] possible there's some criminal action, and some charges could come from this," Schmoll said.

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