Substitute accused of walloping 4th-grader
A retired longtime Mesa County educator and substitute teacher for Mesa County School District 51 told investigators he did “know better” but lost his temper when he allegedly smacked a 10-year-old boy in the face with a book in front of classmates earlier this month, according to court records.
Harold Easton, 66, who worked 32 years as a teacher or principal in District 51 and more recently as a substitute teacher at Chatfield Elementary, was served with a summons on Tuesday charging him with child abuse and third-degree assault following a Mesa County Sheriff’s Department investigation into an incident Oct. 4, in a classroom at Chatfield Elementary.
Court records allege Easton admitted hitting a 10-year-old boy in the side of his face — wielding a “teacher’s manual” in his hand — after two challenging days of substitute teaching at Chatfield. Easton told a deputy he was “very embarrassed.”
“Harry said he did this out of frustration because the children in this class would not listen or quiet down,” a deputy wrote in a case report. “Harry said he was getting tired of telling them to be quiet and pay attention to him. Harry said he felt very bad for losing his temper. Harry said he asked the child several times for the remainder of the day if he was okay. Harry said the child said he was okay.”
Easton allegedly told a deputy he “did know better,” being a former principal at an elementary school for 16 years.
Easton taught in District 51 from 1973 to 1989, working at the former Fruita Elementary School, Shelledy and Tope, according to District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee. Easton was principal at Broadway Elementary for 16 years, before retiring in 2005, McGee said. He also lectured prospective teachers at Colorado Mesa University through the spring of 2012, according to CMU spokeswoman Dana Nunn.
McGee said Easton has been substitute teaching off and on in District 51 from 2006 and 2009, before returning this year.
McGee called the allegations against Easton “atrocious.”
“When we hear about incidents like what occurred here, we immediately remove staff from contact with children,” she said. “In no way is this appropriate behavior.”
Certified substitute teachers are paid $99 for each day in the classroom, she said.
Reached for comment by The Daily Sentinel, Easton said, “It was just my patience. I lost my cool.”
“My apologies to the bereaved,” Easton said. “I certainly didn’t mean to do that. But when a substitute comes into a classroom, they don’t know anybody, can’t build a rapport with the kids and you’re kind of out there on your own. When you get an unruly class, it’s difficult to get that under control.”
‘Swung with force’
The mother of the alleged victim, a fourth-grader, told sheriff’s investigators she was met the afternoon of Oct. 4 by a pair of Chatfield teachers, who informed her son had been struck in the face by a substitute teacher during class, according to a sheriff’s department case report.
Photos of red marks on the boy’s face were booked into evidence at the sheriff’s department.
The report said a girl in the class told deputies the alleged victim was talking with another girl, when the teacher, “came up and hit him with a binder.” The teacher was heard telling a group of students to “stop,” just before a loud thud was heard.
“Afterwards,” a witness explained, “(boy) sat there with his head down crying for almost two minutes. The teacher came to him and asked him if he was alright. He said, “Uh huh.”
The class continued on with writing and math.
Another witness to the incident said after hitting the child, the teacher told him, “Ha, ha that’s what you get for talking,” according to the report.
“I repeated back to (witness) the teacher had told him ‘Ha, ha that’s what you get for talking.’” (Witness) said yes and then the whole class started smiling and laughing at him.” The alleged victim told deputies he was hit with a “reading book,” pointing to the right side of his upper cheek and ear. Witnesses said the teacher swung the book, “with both hands.”
“(Boy) said ... he couldn’t hear out of his ear for about two minutes,” the report said. “(Boy) said he then put his head down and started crying and minding his own business.”
He went on to explain his ear “felt fine now.”
After the blow, a second student in the case reported being threatened by the teacher, who asked a boy if he “wanted it,” too.
“I was informed,” a deputy wrote, “this class has approximately 28 students in it, who all could be witnesses in this incident.”
The children witnesses identified the specific book allegedly used. It was described as 11-by-11 inches, about an inch thick and weighing approximately 2 pounds.
“The book is a Grad 4 Unit 2 Teachers Edition Treasures book,” the report said.
When asked to describe the alleged assault, students demonstrated the book taken back over the right shoulder, and swung to the left.
“They swung in a manner which made it appear the book was swung with force,” a deputy wrote.
Different schools, children
McGee said there’s no history of prior complaints against Easton in terms of interaction with students.
“I have never touched a child before in that way that could be considered child abuse,” Easton told the Sentinel on Tuesday.
Easton said he has no interest in stepping into a classroom again.
“After that happened, I realized I don’t have the patience anymore for the new style kids we have,” he said. “If you’re at a Chatfield, Rocky Mountain or Clifton, those children have a much different lifestyle than a kid that goes to school at Broadway or Wingate.”
Easton said he sees correlation between socio-economic status in the Grand Valley and more disruptive classrooms.
“It’s really different when you get a school with 80 percent free and reduced lunch,” he said. “They (Chatfield incident) were a very difficult class. I’m not saying (my actions) are forgivable. But the class was unruly and difficult to manage. They were constantly talking and making noise.”
Asked if it’s ever okay to hit a child to impose order in the classroom, Easton emphatically said, “Absolutely not.”
In a slice of what Easton described as “irony,” he said some of the classes he once taught at CMU were aimed at showing teachers, “how to be patient and build rapport with students.”
“When you get older like I am, patience isn’t as strong as it used to be,” he said.