SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — After months of confusion and frustration, one family says they feel at a loss after finding out that their special needs son was allegedly hit in school by a teacher who was not his own.
“Complete frustration, completely defeated. Because my son is non-verbal, he’s allowed to be a victim and there will be no justice,” father Brad Stewart said.
According to an incident report, on Sept. 30, Tracey Maxwell, a teacher at Juliette Low Elementary School, is accused of spanking then 7-year-old Cabell Stewart.
Stewart is autistic, non-verbal and considered medically fragile. Stewart’s assigned teacher, Jessica Howell, was not in class during the time, and Maxwell was placed in charge of the class.
Text messages released by the District Attorney’s office reveal Maxwell and Howell communicating about the alleged incident:
Maxwell: He just has his butt spanked.
Howell: No one has ever spanked his butt. He is an only child like no ones business. But he is sweet when he wants to be.”
Later texts reveal more information:
Maxwell: I spanked him!!!!
Howell: Don’t tell me that.
Howell: He can be good.
Howell: But no one has time for one on one with him all day.
Howell: I think I am going to tell those other parents that they are causing me undo stress and I am contacting my lawyer.
Maxwell: Are you kidding????
Maxwell: He can be really good after you pop his pull-up and tell him don’t move!!”
According to the case’s activity logs and witness statements from the school principal, Pam West, Howell came forward to report the incident on Oct. 20. The school system launched an investigation four days later.
Sheila Blanco with the Savannah Chatham County Public School system says she stands by the school’s actions.
“As soon as the administration is aware of it, an investigation should immediately start which is what happened in this case,” Blanco said.
“The parents were immediately contacted and asked to meet with administrators so that they can be made aware of what has been alleged,” Blanco said.
According to Brad Stewart and the activity logs, Cabell’s parents were not made aware of the alleged incident until two days after the investigation started.
“As soon as those text messages were presented, we should have been the next call,” Stewart said.
The Stewarts removed Cabell from Juliette Low and placed him in a new school within the county.
In a witness statement by Howell, she wrote, “In my previous experiences with her I believe that she [Maxwell] did spank that child.”
Blanco confirmed Maxwell was removed from Juliette Low and was reassigned before she handed in her resignation. Because the Stewart family could not produce any credible witnesses or evidence, they are not able to and are choosing not to go forward from a legal sense and press charges.
“The school system is a lot better off without her being a part of her. And I hope she can live with herself with what she’s done to my child,” Brad Stewart said.
Now the Stewarts look to help other special needs families in Savannah.
“We’re now turning to what improvements can we make so that it won’t happen again,” Brad Stewart said. He said he is submitting a proposal to the school board later this week about implementing cameras or increased training for teachers on how to properly handle special needs children.
Maxwell’s laywer, Wesley Wolf, stands by his clients, saying she did not hit Cabell. He said in a phone conversation that while Maxwell now regrets sending the text messages, they were sent in jest to her then-friend Howell.
Wolf said Howell turned over those text messages to the school after the two women had a personal disagreement.
Howell could not be reached for a comment.