Parent sues Iredell-Statesville schools over special needs son’s alleged assault by teacher

A mother of a special needs child is suing the Iredell-Statesville Schools district over an alleged assault on her child by a teacher that occurred in 2019.

In October of 2019, Robin Lorraine Johnson, then-age 51, was arrested on two counts of misdemeanor assault on a handicapped person by the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office. At that time, Johnson received a $20,000 bond and was released. No photo or mugshot was provided by law enforcement at the time and none has been posted since.

According to the Iredell Sheriff’s office, a report was filed by a therapist who indicated multiple children said they were put in a trash can or recycling bin by Johnson. The incidents allegedly took place at Cloverleaf Elementary School over two school years; 2017-18 and 2018-19.

The Iredell-Statesville school district suspended Johnson on Oct. 17 with pay pending the outcome of an investigation by the district. Johnson apparently resigned sometime in 2019 following her suspension.

WSOCTV reported on the filing of the lawsuit, including the following highlights:

According to the lawsuit, Johnson restrained 9-year-old Gage Andrews on several occasions and picked him up and placed him in the trash can. When he tried to get out, she reportedly pushed him back in, saying, “if he acted like trash, [she] would treat him like trash.”

[…]

The lawsuit also claims Johnson made the boy stand in a taped-off square one day after he broke his desk while having a “behavioral meltdown.”

Another claim from the lawsuit explains that the boy came home with dirty clothes and grease in his hair another day while in the second grade. It says Johnson herself told Andrews she “accidentally spilled hot juice and grease” from her lunch on him.

[…]

They are looking to financially cover damages from “past, present and future psychological, pain, suffering and impairment.” In addition, they are looking to cover medical bills, counseling and other costs and expenses for future psychological care as well as attorney fees.

In 2019, the Iredell-Statesville School District told Channel 9 that Johnson was no longer employed with the school district, and on Tuesday a spokesperson again confirmed she resigned last year.

But the lawsuit claims Johnson is working in the district as a teacher currently, while on probation.

The district spokesperson also wrote in an email, “The matter has been referred to the North Carolina School Boards Trust. NCSBT will employ defense counsel to represent Iredell-Statesville Schools. We are unable to give further comment at this time.”

According to WSOCTV’s report, the suit accuses Iredell Statesville school administrators of failing to report the incidents to police and not taking any steps to dig deeper into the abuse.

Additionally, the lawsuit also alleges that the district wasn’t truthful about Johnson’s employment ending in 2019 and that she was on probation and still working as a teacher in the district. WSOCTV’s report says the district confirmed that Johnson was no longer employed.

Johnson was the 49th teacher arrest tracked by this website in 2019. She is also not listed on the teacher license discipline and revocation website maintained by the State Board of Education.

Johnson’s NC teaching license is still active and in good standing:

Current Date: 12/18/2020 11:45 AM
License Number: 1114638
Name: JOHNSON, ROBIN LORRAINE
License Type: Educator
License Status: Current
Expiration Date: 06/30/2022
Effective Date: 07/01/2017
License Area(s): Elementary Education (K-6)
EC Science (K-6)
Exceptional Children: General Curriculum (K-12)
Birth to Kindergarten
EC Social Studies (K-6)
EC Math (K-6)
EC Language Arts


Update: The charges against Johnson were dismissed in 2021 as Johnson agreed to complete probation in exchange for the court’s dismissal of the conviction, which is known as “conditional discharge.”  A federal court of appeals has also ruled the education officials are entitled to immunity.

On June 7, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision and issued a ruling that two Iredell-Statesville education officials involved in the appeal were entitled to “public official immunity” under North Carolina law. The ruling explained immunity had not been pierced because the plaintiff had not claimed malice and “No direct infliction of force or injury is alleged.”

“The facts alleged here are concerning and disheartening. But concerning and
disheartening facts do not alone pierce public official immunity,” the ruling reads. “North Carolina law recognizes that school officials must be given a certain degree of latitude to run their schools.”

The ruling went on to touch on what a hot topic education is at the moment and seemed to downplay what happened to the child as an “ill-advised” decision.

“Given the intense community interest in public education, some of the many decisions administrators make will provoke disagreement. Other such decisions may even be ill-advised,” reads the ruling. “If such judgments were often the prelude to litigation, however, the school environment would be transformed.”

Concurring Judge Diana Gribbon Motz recounted the claims of abuse by the child’s mother and wrote “These facts should enrage us all.”

“But in this appeal, we deal only with one narrow legal question: whether, under North Carolina law, the four officials who allegedly knew about the abuse and failed to report it or take any other action to protect the child are entitled to immunity from R.A.’s negligence claims,” Motz wrote, adding she agreed with the majority.

Motz went on to say those claiming harm may see the ruling granting immunity as a “miscarriage of justice” before taking a shot at immunity laws in North Carolina.

“For under federal and state law, immunity doctrines shield government officials from suit
and/or liability for all sorts of harm. Certain of those immunity doctrines have faced intense criticism,” wrote Motz. ” But North Carolina has not yet chosen to reconsider its doctrine of public official immunity. Unless and until that day comes, we can only apply the immunity as the law requires.”

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips: APDillon@Protonmail.com
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