FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (WALA) - Four school employees in Okaloosa County are facing criminal charges after investigators said they either failed to report child abuse allegations or were involved with abuse themselves. They were given until the end of the day Monday, January 28, 2019 to turn themselves in, after which time warrants would be issued for their arrests.
The alleged crimes happened on two separate campuses; one in Shalimar and one in Ft. Walton Beach. At Shalimar Elementary, investigators say a school counselor failed to report a student’s allegation of sex abuse by another student. Deputies said school counselor, Sharen Burt is being charged with failing to report child abuse. Investigators said a five-year-old student came to her after allegedly being sexually abused by another student and Burt failed to report it as required by law.
What deputies said happened at Silver Sands School in Ft. Walton Beach is even more disturbing. There, investigators said teacher, Margaret Wolthers and teacher’s aids, Diana LaCroix and Carolyn Madison are accused of abusing three autistic children. The report was made by another aid that deputies said witnessed the abuse. Investigators said three children were made to sit in a classroom bathroom with the lights out as punishment. Witnesses tell investigators the children would scream and cry while kept in the bathroom for as long as 90 minutes.
On another occasion at Silver Sands School, investigators said a whistle was used by the aids where they blew it in the ear of a child with low sensory auditory threshold who wore headphones to protect him from loud noises. They said the aids threatened him with the whistle. Wolthers, LaCroix and Madison face charges of aggravated child abuse.
Okaloosa County Sheriff, Larry Ashley says what happened at Silver Sands School could have been going on for some time.
“This was an incident where at least in the Silver Sands incident where they considered it an acceptable practice so it had been going on for some time,” Ashley said.
The teachers and aids have been with the school system ranging from 13 to 21 years. These alleged incidents happened between September and November of last 2018. The teachers have all been on paid administrative leave since and according to Okaloosa County Schools Superintendent, Marcus Chambers they’re expected to be suspended without pay at the next School Board meeting.