A Hillsborough County teacher has resigned after being accused of abusing a child, and her principal has been charged with failing to report the abuse.
Kayla Godwin, 28, who taught at Tampa’s Davis Elementary, was charged with felony child abuse after investigators say she shoved a desk into an 8-year-old boy’s chest.
Patrick LaLone, 51, the principal at Davis, was charged with a felony and accused of trying to cover up the alleged abuse.
According to education advocate Bianca Goolsby of Teaching for the Culture, an investigation into the incident was launched after Tampa-based WMNF Community Radio reported on an alleged coverup last summer.
According to documents filed in Hillsborough County Court and video shared on the internet, Godwin in early May was arguing with the child as she stood over him and he sat at a desk. She’s then seen violently shoving the desk in the child’s torso and holding it there.
His painful cries are heard in the video.
Goolsby said the confrontation was recorded by a paraprofessional who had seen repeated abuse of the same child and had dealt with unanswered complaints.
She recorded the video because she kept reporting the child was getting pinched and hit and all this type of stuff, and the principal didn’t do anything about it, Goolsby told WMNF. “So finally, she recorded it.”
According to Hillsborough Schools public records obtained by Goolsby, LaLone had seen the video as early as May 10. Principals are considered mandatory reporters and are required by statute to report child abuse to a state-run abuse hotline.
But that’s not what LaLone did.
Instead, he reported it to the Office of Professional Standards. However, he left out the part about Godwin hitting the child with the desk and told OPS the confrontation was only verbal. The OPS told LaLone he was being reprimanded for failing to report the incident. The office directed him to discipline Godwin beyond a verbal warning and report the incident to the hotline.
LaLone called the hotline but again failed to accurately report the incident, so a report was not taken.
LaLone was reprimanded via a June 15 letter which said the incident couldn’t be appropriately investigated because LaLone had misled officials. On June 22, Godwin was suspended without pay for five days. LaLone was not disciplined further.
In July, the School District said an investigation was not “necessary given there was video of the incident.” Officials also said “the disciplinary decisions made were based on a review of the video and discussions with the involved employees.”
Goolsby said she tried to sound alarm bells with the District, but went unheard. She said she’s disappointed in the District’s response and wants more oversight to protect children and hold adults accountable.
“I intentionally reached out to the District, spoke at School Board meetings and the affidavit clearly shows the parents of the child were never notified about what happened to their child,” Goolsby told Florida Politics Friday. “The Office of Professional Standards needs to be investigated. Abuse was caught on video. My heart hurts imagining the situations that happen that aren’t captured by video.”
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office began investigating in August. Detectives reviewed the video and interviewed witnesses, including LaLone and Godwin. The boy’s parents only found out their child had been hurt after news reports of the incident came out.
Arrest warrants were issued for LaLone and Godwin in December. LaLone was arrested on Dec. 28 and released after posting a $2,000 bond. Godwin was arrested Dec. 10 and also released after posting a $2,000 bond.
LaLone has been with the School District since 1993. Godwin joined in 2017.
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