Lawsuit claims teacher dumped special-ed student into garbage can for ‘acting like trash’

STATESVILLE, NC – A federal lawsuit filed back in December of 2020 by the mother of a special needs child makes some disturbing allegations regarding how her son was treated by a teacher at Cloverleaf Elementary School in Statesville. 

The lawsuit filed alleges a pattern of abuse by the young child’s teacher, which included the boy being dumped into a garbage can if he “acted like trash”. 

According to the suit filed, Robin Johnson is the teacher who allegedly abused Gage Andrews in the classroom – a young child who suffers from autism.

Prior to Johnson’s October 2019 arrest for various abuse allegations, Johnson was said to have abused Gage and likely others for a period of two years at the elementary school. 

From what the lawsuit alleges, numerous school administrators, officials and even the superintendent of Iredell-Statesville Schools were said to have failed to act on the warnings they’d received about Johnson’s conduct in the classroom mentioned by some of her own colleagues. 

Regarding the criminal case that was brought against Johnson back in October of 2019, she was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault on a handicapped person – that victim being Gage.

In a plea deal reached in March of 2020, Johnson was afforded what’s know as a “deferred prosecution” – essentially a vehicle to have a criminal case dismissed if a defendant agrees to complete certain tasks or follow certain guidelines imposed by a judge. In this instance, Johnson has to remain on supervised probation until September of 2021. 

So from a criminal code perspective, Johnson’s legal troubles are over. However, Gage’s mother, Renee Andrews, has named Johnson in her lawsuit – among several others.

The suit also named former Superintendent Brady Johnson, Associate Superintendent Alvera Lesane, and Cloverleaf principals Alisha Cloer, Andrew Mehall and the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education. 

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When speaking out about what her son Gage endured inside of Johnson’s classroom during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, Renee said it “broke” her:

“From a mother’s standpoint it broke me. It was a pain like no other. It was like they were being tortured. That’s the only way I can think about it. It was torture. These were children. The stuff being done to them was unimaginable.”

Reports stemming from the time that Johnson was arrested in 2019, the former teacher was accused of abusive behaviors toward many students. But the lawsuit filed in December of 2020, Gage was reportedly singled out by Johnson. 

Allegations made in the lawsuit say that Johnson would shove Gage, during his time in her 1st and 2nd grade classroom, to the ground and cover his mouth with her palm to stifle his screams.

The young boy also told his mother that Johnson had even once tried to suffocate him. During another alleged incident, Johnson had forced Gage to stand for the remainder of the school day after he’d damaged his desk in the classroom. 

Another incident involved Gage coming home from school with his hair covered in grease and his clothes stained. Renee, who happens to be an operating room nurse, also realized her son’s skin was scalded. 

Johnson alleged that she had “accidentally” dropped her freshly microwaved lunch of collard greens on Gage’s head, which is why his hair and clothes were covered in grease and his skin badly burned. 

Stacey Gahagan, the attorney representing the family in the lawsuit, is highly skeptical of that instance having been accidental: 

“It seems to fit a pattern of abuse…It’s certainly questionable. Given everything else that was happening, ‘purely accidental’ becomes a lot harder to believe.”

Prior to understanding what exactly was happening to her child at school, Renee simply knew something wasn’t right: 

“You knew something was wrong, but you did not know what was wrong. His behavior changed drastically.”

“He was not wanting to go to school, but he wouldn’t tell us why. Anything we would question at the school, they always had an answer. It was just an ordeal. You’d see things happening and you didn’t know why.”

Yet, things became all the more clear in September of 2019. Parents of a different former-student of Johnson’s had learned about some of her disturbing methods in the classroom. 

Those parents were said to have then informed a school counselor, who then informed both then-Superintendent Brady Johnson and the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office. 

On month after that, Johnson was arrested. 

When detailing the motivations for the lawsuit, Renee stated that it’s more about creating awareness to these matters rather than any sort of financial gain: 

“Every time you turn around there is an autistic child being abused, whether it’s at school or on the bus or wherever. If this case can change it for one child and make a way that’s better for these children, then we’re doing something. They deserve a shot at life.”

As for Gage, who’s now 10-years-old, he’s since reenrolled into a new private school that specializes in teaching autistic children. Renee said she could already see her son becoming happy again:

“I can actually see him getting happy. You can see the change.”

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Author: Gregory Hoyt

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