HOUMA — The former principal of a school for mentally and physically disabled children faces a battery charge in connection with allegations that she beat a severely autistic 11-year-old child.
Sophia Seymore, 42, of Gibson, was issued a misdemeanor summons Friday for battery to the infirm after being questioned by Houma City Police detectives in the presence of an attorney.
Lt. Jude McElroy, a police spokesman, said the charge was lodged after consultation with the Terrebonne Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Seymore resigned Wednesday from her post at the Terrebonne Parish School for Exceptional Children. Neither police nor Terrebonne schools Superintendent Philip Martin would provide details of the alleged incident.
Christopher St. Martin, a Houma attorney, issued a statement confirming that his firm is representing the child and his parents “due to concerns that their child has been abused while under the school’s supervision.”
St. Martin said the child’s parents received an anonymous letter informing them that “the school’s principal had been physically and mentally abusive toward the severely autistic 11-year-old.”
The mother went to the Terrebonne Parish School Board and the Houma Police Department to make formal complaints, prompting investigations by both.
A School Board representative notified the parents, St. Martin said, that sufficient evidence was found to demand the principal resign or be terminated.
St. Martin said police told the parents that witnesses “indicated the principal put the child on the ground, got on the child’s back and repeatedly slammed his head onto a concrete floor.”
“Another witness indicated the principal had a scuffle with the child behind a curtain,” St. Martin said. “After the scuffle, both child and principal returned from behind the curtain, the principal with a shoe in her hand and the child bleeding from his mouth.”
St. Martin said the child’s autism is so severe he is unable to defend himself, speak or relay information of the alleged incident to his parents.
“At this time, we are unable to determine exactly how long this behavior has occurred,” St. Martin said. “However, the parents have noticed extreme changes in the child’s behavior since these acts of violence.”
Seymore did not return calls to her home Friday. An educator familiar with the situation but who asked not to be quoted by name said there was no intent on the part of the principal to harm a child but that she had been assisting a teacher unable to cope with a grand mal seizure the child was experiencing.
That account could not be confirmed by officials.
Seymore’s aunt Clarsie Williams of Gibson said she is aware of allegations against her niece but was not familiar with the specific situation. She said she could not imagine Seymore doing anything intentionally to harm a child.
“She has been working with these children for a long time,” Williams said. “She is very dedicated. She goes out of her way for them.”
Seymore’s MySpace page says she has worked for the school system in Terrebonne since 1989. A graduate of H.L. Bourgeois High, she graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 1986 with a bachelor’s in English and journalism, then attained her master’s degree at Nicholls State University in 1995.
Cynthia Davis, a veteran teacher at the SEC, is acting as the school’s administrator.
The school, at 105 Moffet Road, just off Grand Caillou Road, enrolls fewer than three dozen students. Its enrollment has dwindled over the years as state and federal rules shift students with disabilities.