- Andrew Marra Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
A Palm Beach Gardens teacher accused in a lawsuit of making her students vote on whether a 9-year-old boy was “annoying” admitted to telling her class to judge the boy’s behavior, saying she believed the tactic would make him behave, police records show.
Marsh Pointe Elementary teacher Julie Salvatoriello told police last year that the boy, who was later diagnosed with autism, had been distracting other students in her language arts class last October and was ignoring her orders to stop misbehaving.
To encourage him to stop, Salvatoriello told police she asked the rest of her fourth-grade class whether the boy was distracting them and that students responded by raising their hands.
At the time, the boy “was not facing the class and she asked him to look at them,” a school district police officer wrote in a report obtained by The Palm Beach Post through a public records request.
The tactic worked, Salvatoriello told police. When the boy saw the students raise their hands, “he wasn’t happy… and his behaviors diminished,” the police report stated.
The mother’s lawsuit said the boy is autistic but had not been officially diagnosed at the time of the incident. The mother told police that her son could become disruptive if not given a task to complete.
The boy and his mother allege that when the boy refused to look at his classmates, Salvatoriello grabbed him and forced him to turn around in his desk. When interviewed by police, Salvatoriello denied touching the boy.
The investigator, Officer Kathryn Wisniewski, did not interview any students in the class to determine who was telling the truth about the physical contact, the police report indicates. Wisniewski did not respond to a message seeking comment.
While the suit alleges that Salvatoriello asked the students to raise their hands if they felt the boy was being “annoying,” the police report does not indicate whether she used that term or whether she specifically directed students to raise their hands.
Police concluded that there was no evidence that Salvatoriello had committed a crime but the report indicated that she was reprimanded by her principal.
“Ms. Salvatoriello admitted her actions were wrong and she received a written reprimand, but she didn’t intentionally try to harm (the student),” Wisniewski’s report stated.
While the police investigation focused on a single incident, the mother told police that Salvatoriello asked the class to vote on whether the boy was annoying two separate times in October 2016. The second time, she said, he came home in tears and begged not to return to school.
The mother told police that after the incident the boy started hiding in his closet or under his bed when it was time to go to school. When he was in the class, she said, he would often leave for the bathroom and remain there for up to 45 minutes .
The suit alleges the incidents caused the minor child to suffer from “severe emotional distress.”
“By subjecting a 9-year old child to a public vote in which the remaining children in the classroom were instructed to raise their hands if they found him annoying, (the teacher) acted in a deliberate or reckless fashion to inflict emotional suffering upon the minor child,” the suit said.
School district officials have declined to comment on the case. An attorney for the mother also declined to comment. The Post is withholding the mother’s name to protect the boy’s identity.
In an email, Salvatoriello declined to comment other than to point out that police closed the case by concluding that no criminal allegations were substantiated.
The boy’s mother and grandparents were outraged by the incident, and the mother met with an investigator from the state Department of Children and Families, police records show. The family also pressed to have Salvatoriello fired, police records show.
Salvatoriello told police that she had been dealing with the boy’s behavior problems for the entire school year and had attempted to contact his parents to address them. The report said that Salvatoriello “did not receive any parental support.”
Salvatoriello, a district employee since 2000, left on maternity leave soon after the incident, records show. She returned and continues to teach, a school district spokeswoman said.
The district declined to say what school Salvatoriello teaches at, citing a privacy protection for relatives of law enforcement officials, but payroll records indicate she continues to teach at Marsh Pointe Elementary. The school is located off Hood Road in Palm Beach Gardens near the Mirasol community.