MERCER COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – Three lawsuits have been filed against Mercer County Schools, claiming a teacher mistreated and abused children. One suit alleges threatened repercussion if an employee spoke out against the misconduct, which the school later fired her over.
The first complaint calls out the Mercer County Board Of Education; Cumberland Heights teacher Alma Belcher, Cumberland Heights principal Steve Hayes, and Superintendent Deborah Akers. Early in the 2018-19 school year, bullies allegedly targetted A.G., a five-year-old at Cumberland Heights Early Learning Center in Bluefield.
A student also allegedly physically threatened A.G. Her teacher, Belcher, reportedly forced the child to stay in her seat while students bullied her. The suit alleges that Belcher pushed the child and pulled out some of her hair.
On the same day, the teacher allegedly grabbed the student by the arms, shook her and screamed in her face. The parents found a knot on the child’s head.
The suit alleges that defendants Hayes and Akers knew a teacher was abusing and neglecting several children. The suit says Akers and Hayes never reported the incidents and did not comply with their legal reporting duties. The parents removed their child from Cumberland Heights after failure action from the school.
The child’s mother, S.G., is an employee of Mercer County Schools. Officials allegedly threatened her job.
According to a second complaint, Amanda Shrewsbury, Belcher’s teacher aid, allegedly witnessed the abuse and neglect to students. The complaint alleges that Shrewsbury made around 57 complaints regarding Belcher’s misconduct between Thanksgiving 2018 and early January 2019. Shrewsbury contacted the principal about the misbehavior. He allegedly told her not to contact the police because they would ban her.
On January 11, 2019, a BOE employee interviewed Shrewsbury while in the principal’s office. Shrewsbury told the BOE employee that Belcher was mistreating the children. Principal Hayes asked his secretary to provide him with an evaluation form in which he gave her a negative review. Hayes allegedly told Shrewsbury that Akers did not want her to accept any more positions with Mercer County Schools.
Principal Hayes allegedly threatened Shrewsbury if she cooperated with authorities’ potential investigation into Belcher’s mistreatment of students. After Shrewsbury filed dozens of complaints to Hayes, Akers and MCBOE officials, they told her services were no longer necessary. The school board had offered her job to another employee, who accepted.
According to a third lawsuit, three-year-old B.H. is a special needs student. Belcher allegedly glued together B.H.’s hands for punishment. She also covered his face to stop him from crying, essentially suffocating him, the suit alleges. Belcher illegally and repeatedly placed B.H. in a restraint chair in his regular class for long periods. She placed B.H. in a restraint chair in a separate room, at times with the lights off. She also pulled his arms and legs.
This is a developing story. Stay with WOAY News as we continue to get updates.