Lawsuit settlement in case involving Gaston teacher accused of student abuse

A lawsuit filed against a teacher in Gaston County Public Schools accused six years ago of abusing special needs students has been settled.  That teacher is still employed by Gaston County schools, according to a report.

WSOCTV reported on Mar. 8 that the lawsuit had been settled and that the families involved will receive $225,000 each:

“When you do find someone that’s not doing what’s right for your kid, that’s not the best,” said parent Jennifer Angelo. “The system just seemed to protect itself more than it protected our kids.”

Angelo, the mother of one of the alleged victims, became one of the parents last week to see some justice in the case.

“One lawyer literally said to me, ‘We won’t touch the school system with a 10-foot pole,’” Angelo said. “We were told things like that repeatedly.”

Angelo and the families of the two other alleged victims agreed to settle the lawsuit against the Gaston County Board of Education and teacher Penny Pope Barker. Each family will receive $225,000.

The case goes back to 2017 and involves McAdenvill Elementary School teacher Penny Pope Barker.

Penny Pope Barker - gaston - Quiet Epidemic

Penny Pope Barker

Barker was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault on a child under the age of 12 and two counts of assault on a handicapped person.

In one case, she allegedly picked a child up by his ears. She was also accused of causing a laceration to the 6-year-old’s ear and for allegedly squeezing a stuffed animal soaked in cold water over a 5-year-old girl’s head.

She was convicted in June 2017 of abusing three special needs students.

Barker’s attorney appealed the conviction and WSOCTV reported that a lawyer representing one of the students said the assault charges against Barker were later dropped.

“It’s not been completely clear why that happened and that’s something we think, in this particular case, was inappropriate given the nature of the conduct at issue,” Chip Hinnant told WSOCTV.

With no criminal charges against her, Barker remains employed with Gaston County Public Schools, according to the Charlotte Observer.

The Charlotte Observer reported on a statement given by Todd Hagans, chief communications officer for the Gaston County schools.

The statement said the settlement is “not an admission of liability” by the district and was a “strategic decision by the Board of Education’s insurance company (Liberty Mutual) to avoid the costs of further litigation, including possible appeals, and to obtain a dismissal and full release of all claims.”

“Hagans confirmed that Barker still works for the school system, though he would not disclose details of her current job,” the Charlotte Observer article says.

It is unclear if Barker has an active NC teaching license on file with the state, however, one license record for a “Penny Elizabeth Barker” expiring in June 2024 was located. The license Areas match that of Barker’s former job position:

EC Math (K-6)
Exceptional Children: General Curriculum (K-12)
EC Science (K-6)
EC Language Arts
EC Social Studies (K-6)
Exceptional Children: Adapted Curriculum (K-12)
Learning Disabled K-12


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:
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