FEB. 8, UPDATE– A teacher’s aide at Northside Elementary School in Savannah has been fired amid concerns that special education students may have been dosed with a non-prescription supplement in a plan to sedate them.
Savannah police on Friday confirmed an investigation is underway, and said the district attorney general’s office is looking into the matter.
Hardin County Director of Schools Michael Davis said last Thursday that he terminated the aide on Jan. 29 for several conduct violations, including an unauthorized photograph of students.
He said he had evidence the aide conspired with a friend who did not work at the school to bring her some over-the-counter melatonin “gummie” pills, with the possible intent of sedating children in her special ed pre-K and kindergarten classroom.
Melatonin is a hormone found naturally in the body that can be made synthetically in a laboratory and is sold and advertised as a sleep aid.
Davis said he was notified of some instant messaging “Snapchat” posts the aide allegedly made about being frustrated by the behavior of the special education kids in her care, and her apparently wanting them to go to sleep or at the least calm down.
In the Snapchat exchange on Dec. 13, 2017, the 40-year-old aide is alleged to have asked a friend to buy a bottle of melatonin gummies and leave them in the aide’s car parked at Northside.
Later the same day, the aide posted a picture on Snapshat showing two of the special ed kids, with one asleep and the other sitting up on a cot, Davis said.
According to the director, security camera video at the school captured footage of the aide walking to the school exit doors and returning momentarily with what appears to be a vitamin or medication bottle in her hand.
Security video at Walmart shows the aide’s acquaintance buying the melatonin pills, and police also obtained a copy of the receipt, he said.
Davis said the now former aide contends the Snapchat exchange was “just a joke” and denies giving any pills to the students.
He said he notified parents of the children in the class the day after confronting the aide and firing her, and shared the details with them.
The Courier filed a formal public records request with the Hardin County Board of Education and was provided the aide’s personnel file containing information about the alleged incident.
In a record of the Snapchat conversation, the aide allegedly tells the friend to bring her the melatonin gummies “before I hurt this kid.”
The conversation continues, “He’s spit on me, threw his shoe on me, put boogers on me. Hit me. Now I’m gonna put his a-- to sleep.”
Also in the conversation the aide allegedly says, “Girl, I passing them out like candy. The crazy slept 2 hours, the other we had to wake up.”
(Ed. note: Quotes edited for spelling and clarity.)
Davis’ notes of the interviews with the teacher and other adults who worked with the aide are in her personnel file. According to those notes no adult saw her give anything resembling candy or snacks to the students.
Davis added that because there are no witnesses or cameras in the classroom, he can’t prove any children were given melatonin. However, he said the aide had been alone with some students for several minutes at a time on that day in a “sensory room.”
Sensory rooms are a therapeutic space designed to help children focus themselves so they can be better prepared for learning and interacting with others.
The friend who bought the melatonin, according to authorities, said in a statement to police also in the personnel file, that the aide “told me she had given the children the gummies.”
There were no interviews with the students because of their age, and many of them are incapable of communicating, Davis said.
Assistant District Attorney Vance Dennis said Monday that the matter is under investigation, but no charges have been filed.
In accordance with a longstanding Courier policy, the newspaper is not identifying the former aide at this time because she has not been charged.
A local attorney who said he is representing her did not respond to a request for comment.