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Posted: April 4, 2008 3:00 a.m.

Alcovy High special ed teacher charged with cruelty to children

 The Alcovy High School special education teacher and paraprofessional charged last week with cruelty to children were arrested for allegedly putting soap in the mouth of a severely handicapped student and sticking packing tape over the mouth of the same student, according to warrants filed by the Newton County Sheriff's Office.

 Derrick Roberts, 27, a special education teacher for a class of approximately five severely handicapped students, and paraprofessional Nanette Surber, 33, were arrested March 27 after another teacher reported witnessing the incidents to school authorities.

 Both Roberts and Surber were charged with simple battery misdemeanor and cruelty to children in the first degree, a felony. Both were released the same day after paying a $3,000 bond.

 Warrants filed by the NCSO charged Roberts with repeatedly putting a bar of soap in the mouth of one of his students, a severely handicapped, nonverbal 17-year-old. Surber is charged with allegedly putting packing tape over the student's mouth.

 Roberts declined to comment but said a statement would soon be available from his attorney Michael Waters. Surber could not be reached.

 NCSO Lt. Bill Watterson said he was not making any statements about their actions in order to preserve the privacy of the victim.

 Parent Rhonda Hallford, whose daughter was in Roberts' class for about two years, said she had witnessed Roberts with his finger in her daughter's face last year when they were in the cafeteria. She reported the incident to authorities and was assured it had been investigated and that they had taken care of it. She said she noticed the class no longer ate lunch in the cafeteria after that incident.

 Still, she said the recent reports were a surprise to her.

 "Some days, you go in there and it looked like they had had enough," said Hallford. But she pointed out many parents felt that way after a long day with their children.

 She said she received a call from a member of the Board of Education reassuring her that her child was not harmed, but only heard about the specific charges later in the news.

 Newton County School System director of public relations Sherri Viniard said other personnel are covering the class during the investigation.

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