Prince George's County public schools officials are investigating an incident in which the aunt of a second-grader at a county charter school ordered him to remove his pants and underwear and whipped him in front of his teacher and classmates Friday.
Kenneth Jones, principal of Turning Point Academy in Lanham, a charter school founded last year, acknowledged in a letter to the regional superintendent that the incident had taken place. Jones said the aunt would write a letter of apology to the parents of the students in the class.
"Please know that the incident is a family matter and should not have occurred in a school setting," Jones wrote in a letter to parents. "All interactions were between the child and a family member."
Prince George's schools spokesman John L. White said the school system is looking into the case. The system hires the staff at the taxpayer-funded charter school. "Based on what we find, disciplinary action could follow. . . . Regarding the actions of the parent, we will be investigating and possibly coordinating with social services."
Corporal punishment is banned in Maryland public schools, but the law allows a parent to discipline a child so long as it is not excessive or unreasonable.
White said that it was unclear whether the aunt's action was illegal because it took place on school grounds but that the teacher could be disciplined if it is determined that she allowed the beating in her class.
In his letter to parents, Jones wrote, "The teacher did not participate or have knowledge that this was going to occur."
Paula J. Reitan, whose daughter said she saw the whipping, sent an e-mail to school authorities and news outlets Saturday describing the incident.
"The last time [the student's] mom had been called to the school, she warned that the next time she was called to the school, she was going to give him a whooping in front of the entire class," Reitan wrote in the e-mail. "That is precisely what the aunt did. . . . She had [him] stand in the middle of the classroom before all his classmates. He was told to pull down his pants and his underpants. He was then beaten with a belt by his aunt."
It was unclear what precipitated the whipping.
Reitan's daughter was shocked: "She cannot stop talking about . . . how disgusting it was to watch. . . . In my opinion, this event will never be forgotten by my daughter."
Reitan said she had withdrawn her child from school yesterday.
In a similar case in Frederick County last year, a town commissioner was arrested and charged with assault and child abuse when he struck his 13-year-old son in front of a sheriff's deputy after the boy had been picked up for smashing mailboxes with a baseball bat. The charges against the commissioner were dropped.
In California, a state lawmaker proposed a ban on spanking children younger than 4 years old last month, triggering a national debate on corporal punishment. She dropped the proposal last week, instead presenting a bill that would criminalize parental discipline involving a closed fist, belt, shoe and several other objects.