Second former Kanawha County teacher’s aide gets jail time for abusing special needs students | #teacher | #children | #kids

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A second former teacher’s aide at Horace Mann Middle School in Charleston will head to jail next month for abusing students in a special needs classroom.

Walter Pannell, 72, was sentenced Wednesday morning in Kanawha County Circuit Court to six months in jail, two years of supervised probation with the possible penalty of one year if that probation is violated.

Former aide James Lynch, who also worked at Horace Mann, was sentenced to two years in jail last month.

Pannell previously pleaded guilty in May to four counts of misdemeanor battery against two students identified by the court as N.H. and T.R. The abuse happened in March and April 2021 and was captured on classroom video. Pannell was arrested in May 2021.

Victim’s mother Vankisha Hill provides testimony in court Wednesday morning.

Vankisha Hill, the mother of N.H., told Judge Carrie Webster it was scary to watch it all unfold.

“It was one time when Mr. Pannell grabbed my son by his shirt and dragged him like a rag doll. There was another instance my son was going toward your food and you said ‘Don’t come over here because I will punch you in your nose.’” Hill said.

Hill’s son, who was 13 at the time of the abuse, is autistic, non-verbal and has ADHD. She told Pannell she understands taking care of special needs kids is not an easy task.

“They have difficulties, they have speech issues, they’re non-verbal,” she said. “If you were not able to do the job, why stay there?”

Earlier in Wednesday’s hearing, Pannell recognized his job was difficult. He had been working in special education for more than 30 years.

“Working with autism kids than working with kids with behavior disorders,” Pannell said.

The judge interrupted him and said “this ran contrary to your training, so you’re not taking the position that you were allowed to do that, are you?

Pannell replied, “No.”

Pannell’s attorney J.A. Curia was seeking probation and home confinement citing his client’s age, underlying health issues with cancer and lack of previous criminal history.

But Judge Webster said abusing the vulnerable should never be tolerated.

“I don’t take pleasure putting somebody in jail, but I also don’t take pleasure in hearing behavior in a classroom where children who depend on others are being harmed and abuse, and you did,” Webster told Pannell.

The judge spent some time reading supportive letters from family, friends and those who know Pannell.

Hill said those words “went in one ear and out the other.”

“I heard the letters of this great teacher, this great coach, but the videos that I’ve had to watch time and time over and over does not display that whatsoever,” she said.

Pannell will self-report to the South Central Regional Jail on Aug. 5.

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