RALEIGH, N.C. — An eight-year veteran of the Wake County Schools, Melinda Whitley resigned from Washington Elementary in September effective at the end of her maternity leave. Now, the special education teacher faces a misdemeanor child abuse charge related to her tenure at Wakefield Elementary last spring.
Libby Cochran's autistic 7-year-old daughter, Waverly, sometimes tries to hurt herself when she struggles to communicate, so the mother instructed Whitley to make sure the girl wore protective headgear and pads.
"There were many things that went on in that classroom," she said. "The skin on Waverly's head was broken open, and she had a blue knot. Why was her helmet taken off? Ms. Whitley said, 'Oh, she was hot.'"
Despite her concerns, Cochran said she wanted to believe Whitley and did not pursue charges until months later when she heard other parent complaints and witness accounts.
"What makes me so sad is that these are mute witnesses. They are children without a voice," Cochran said.
In a written statement, Wake County public schools said they were not notified of these allegations until after Whitley's resignation, then they launched an internal investigation. However, Cochran does not buy that timing.
"We have reason to believe that the administration knew that there were serious problems in that classroom well before that," she said.
The 7-year-old's injuries did not require a doctor's care. In fact, she is still enrolled at Wakefield Elementary. Cochran plans to file a civil suit against the Wake County school system.
Whitley was released on a $3,000 unsecured bond. WRAL was unable to reach her for comment. She is due in court at the end of the month.