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District suspends educator for slap

Jeff Schmucker Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 07:29 PM

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A former Moton Elementary School paraprofessional who helps special needs children was issued two days suspension without pay, a reprimand and was transferred to Central High School after slapping a student on the hand.

Two witnesses told administrators the incident drew their attention due to the severity of the slap, which sounded like it would cause the child pain.

Administrators determined earlier this month that ESE paraprofessional Charles Giarratana erred when he took corrective action with a special needs elementary school student who attempted to push over a wheelchair-bound classmate.

Giarratana told district administrators he was pushing one student in the wheelchair while holding the hand of another walking down a hallway in mid-October when the incident took place.

He said he was concerned the student pushing on the wheelchair would cause it to fall over and injure the student sitting in it.

"I have big, beefy hands. They make a loud noise," Giarratana said. "I've been punched, scratched, bitten, had my glasses broken and knocked off. It's not my instinct to retaliate. I was protecting the safety of the little guy. He could have hit his head."

However, witnesses nearby thought the slap was severe enough that it needed to be reported.

When MES Principal Mark Griffith confronted Giarratana, he didn't hesitate to admit to the act, stating he knew what he did was wrong, but had done it instinctively and without thinking.

During his meeting with Heather Martin, director of business services for the school district, he added the child is nonverbal and that he doesn't know if verbal commands would have worked.

Giarratana said he recognizes he needs more training and that he should have asked for assistance.

"How can you assure the superintendent that this won't happen again?" Martin asked.

"Because I know where the boundaries are now," Giarratana said. "But I'd still rather get into trouble for slapping a child than having one get hurt."

Prior working with the district, Giarratana said he was a minister for 11 years and worked as a social worker for two. He has been with the school district since 1999, working as a substitute teacher before working as a paraprofessional.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt noted in his formal letter of reprimand that while Giarratana admitted his mistake, he didn't report it to administrators.

Blavatt added Giarratana would receive further training, that including a refresher course in his responsibilities.

"As you have been successful in the past working with students of an older age, this assignment may be more suited to your strengths," Blavatt wrote. (352) 544-5271

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