The Cobb County School Board Thursday voted to terminate the contract of an East Cobb special education teacher accused of putting a second-grader with autism in a trash can.
Mary Katherine Pursley, a teacher at Mt. Bethel Elementary, said at a tribunal hearing Monday at the Cobb school district office that she was trying to calm the child, not hurt him. She said the child was screaming and upset at an after-school program and she was attempting to get him to stop by holding him over a trash can to “shake out the grouchy,” comparing his behavior to Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street,
“My intention was not to put him all the way in the can,” Pursley told a panel of former educators at the hearing. “I was sort of shaking him over the trash can.”
The board voted to terminate the teacher’s contract for the 2015-16 school year.
Attorneys for the school system argued Pursley “engaged in inappropriate physical contact” with the student. Pursley has been with the school district for 21 years and has been on administrative leave with pay following the April 30 incident.
Pursley, 45, who was arrested and charged with cruelty to children in the first degree, is accused of talking with the “victim about Oscar the Grouch and his ‘trashy behavior’” during the after-school program, Pursley’s arrest warrant states. “The accused told the victim, ‘If he had trashy behavior like Oscar, he’d go to the trash can.’”
Pursley then allegedly picked up the child by his legs, held him upside down and put him head-first into a trash can, according to police.
The boy was crying, screaming and yelling “stop” while Pursley held him, the arrest warrant states. She then set him down on the floor. The incident was witnessed by two paraprofessionals and the school’s after-school director. Other students in the classroom also witnessed Pursley’s actions, according to police.
Pursley, of Atlanta, was released from jail last month after posting $5,000 bond.
Pursley’s attorney Warren Fortson said her behavior was not inappropriate and she should not be fired. He said Pursley used characters like Oscar the Grouch to help calm special education students. He also noted that a recent evaluation of Pursley said she was proficient and doing her job well.