The Tennessee State Board of Education has revoked the license of a teacher accused of striking a student with autism in 2016.
The board revoked Jennifer Griva’s license last week over “inappropriate physical contact,” according to board attorney Elizabeth Taylor.
Griva resigned from Rutherford County Schools the same day she was accused of slapping Preston Garcia. District spokesman James Evans said RCS does not “condone” Griva’s actions.
But under state law, it is legal to physically discipline students with disabilities.
Nearly a year later, Taylor said the state board found the use of corporal punishment in that case was “unauthorized."
Preston’s father remembers the alleged incident like it was yesterday. He said his family did not authorize the school to use physical discipline on Preston.
“I was pissed,” Adrian Garcia told the News 4 I-Team in May. “I mean you smack a 5-year-old in the face, nonverbal, autistic, and I don’t care what he did, he could have brought hell to you, I mean you still don’t smack a kid in the face.”
The I-Team was the first to uncover disparities at dozens of schools in Middle Tennessee. Data showed that students with disabilities received corporal punishment a higher rate than their peers without disabilities at 60 Midstate schools during a single school year.
Now officials from state lawmakers to the governor are saying it’s time to take a second look.
"It's hard for me to envision a scenario where students with disabilities would have more corporal punishment than non-disabled students,” Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday.
When asked if he supported the use of corporal punishment on students with disabilities, Gov. Haslam said he did not.
“It’s definitely time to dig into what’s causing that and a change would feel appropriate from everything I know,” Gov. Haslam said.
Last month the Tennessee Comptroller agreed to look into the matter at the request of two state senators.
Griva could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Taylor said the teacher can apply for license reinstatement at any time.
“The onus is really on the teacher to show they’re suitable to be in the classroom again,” Taylor said.
Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, has already proposed legislation to ban the practice for students with special needs. Previous attempts to ban corporal punishment for all students have failed.
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