Teacher arrested, charged with allegedly assaulting student with autism in Chesterfield

Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 1:58 PM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - A 65-year-old teacher has been arrested and charged with assaulting two students at Chester Early Childhood Learning Academy.

Police say they received a referral from Child Protective Services (CPS) that a teacher - Kathleen R. Harlow - had assaulted a student on April 13.

According to court documents, on April 14, the school’s principal notified child protective services of alleged physical abuse of a 3-year-old student with autism at the hands of his teacher, Kathleen Harlow.

The incident allegedly occurred inside a music class on April 13 and was witnessed by two other teachers.

The witnesses say Harlow was attempting to get the student to play with an instrument, but the student was resistant and began wandering around the classroom.

Harlow then led the student to a chair where she sat behind him as he stood facing away from her.

The report goes on to say Harlow had both of her knees on either side of the student, who was trying to move away from her.

The witnesses said the student began to ‘buck,’ throwing his head back and forth while he was crying.

That’s when Harlow allegedly grabbed the student’s hair into a ball and held his head in that position until he stopped moving, at which time Harlow let go, and the student fell onto his face.

”You want to send your kids to school to be safe, and you want them to learn, and you want them to make friends, and it’s really heartbreaking when these stories come out of abuse,” Jill Arseneau, a concerned parent who has a student with autism in Chesterfield, said.

Arseneau is also the Chair of the Special Education Advisory Committee for Chesterfield schools and said a teacher should know that the student may have been overstimulated.

“I don’t know what happened specifically, but it sounds like they’re not trained,” Arseneau said.

In the report, the school’s principal even told police that handling a student’s hair is not an approved or taught technique in the school system.

One of the witnesses in the report says Harlow told them this is an illegal hair grab and commented she’s had five concussions in her lifetime and wasn’t going to have a sixth.

The witnesses said at no point did the student’s head or any other body part come into contact with Harlow.

The principal questioned Harlow about the incident. On April 17, Harlow wrote a statement saying she did not recall it.

The next day Harlow allegedly sent the principal an email. It said there was a gap in her memory and she went to the doctor to determine she was suffering from a concussion which she said could only be the result of a student forcefully head-butting her.

This is the second teacher from Chester Early Childhood Learning Academy who has been arrested and charged with assault in the past month.

Those alleged incidents happened in March and in 2022.

Given this is at least the second time a student with special needs has been assaulted at the same school this school year, advocates hope more training can be done.

“The prevalence of autism is continuing to rise. It’s now 1 in 36 individuals diagnosed, so the more individuals who are diagnosed, the more needs there are in our community,” Ann Flippin, with the Autism Society of Central Virginia, said.

“While police and CPS personnel investigated this reported assault, detectives learned of an earlier assault involving the same teacher and a different student,” Chesterfield police said in a news release on Wednesday.

Police said the other alleged assault involving Harlow happened in December.

Court records did not depict that incident.

Harlow, who lives in Henrico, was charged on Tuesday on two warrants for misdemeanor assault.

Anyone with information should contact the Chesterfield County Police Department at 804-748-1251.