Police arrested a substitute teacher in Flushing Wednesday after complaints were filed that she physically abused a student.
Grace Peterson-Hagendorf, 59, was charged with assault on a minor following an incident in which she allegedly hurt one of her 6-year-old students at PS 22 in Flushing. If convicted, Peterson-Hagendorf faces up to seven years in prison.
Peterson-Hagendorf was filling in for teacher Jennifer O’Brien, who had left the classroom to attend a staff meeting. When O’Brien returned, the student in question told her that Peterson-Hagendorf had pushed her, grabbed her neck and twisted it, causing pain and swelling.
The child was treated at a nearby hospital while Peterson-Hagendorf was arrested by officers from the 109th Precinct. She has been removed from the classroom pending outcome of the case.
In a statement issued to the press, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said, “Schools are meant to be safe learning environments for their students. It is therefore difficult to comprehend that a teacher could lose all self-control and physically attack a young student in a room full of her friends and classmates.”
A spokesperson for the United Federation of Teachers declined to comment on the incident while the investigation was still taking place.
The case is the latest in a string of incidents in which teachers and other school employees have been arrested. Peterson-Hagendorf is the ninth public school employee to be arrested since the beginning of the year.
Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), who sits on the Education Committee, said he does not think that the latest arrest was indicative of a problem in the DOE, but he did express hope that this incident would lead to more “bad apples” being removed from the system.
“Obviously, anyone accused of abusing a child needs to be taken out of the classroom,” Weprin said. “We need to remain vigilant so that people who shouldn’t be in a classroom aren’t put there.”
This also comes merely days after schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott issued a statement urging all DOE employees to “keep [their] hands off our children.”
When told about the chancellor’s statement, Weprin said, “You would think that that would be common sense.”
Peterson-Hagendorf is expected to return to court on April 2.