East St. Louis, Illinois -- Two Head Start teachers in East St. Louis are on paid administrative leave after allegations that preschoolers were forced to strip off all their clothes as part of punishment for misbehaving, reports CBS St. Louis affiliate KMOV-TV. The teachers and students are part of the Head Start program operated by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center.
"Children would misbehave in class and this teacher would have them disrobe and stand them, make them stand inside a closet for five or 10 minutes as their discipline. Then they would redress and join the class," said campus Police Chief Kevin Schmoll.
He said 4 of the 20 students in the class were forced to take their clothes off. The students are 4 and 5 years old.
Schmoll said that form of punishment had been going on since early February but police were only notified last week. "We felt that was very inappropriate and possibly there's some criminal action, charges could come as a result of this," he said.
As word spread through the community about the allegations, residents told News 4 they were outraged.
"As a mother myself, I can't believe they would let something like this go on," said Lakysha Jeffries.
Marquis Ginger told KMOV, "Something needs to be done to the teachers as far as what's going on."
Police said they don't believe there was any sexual contact between the adults and naked children.
Police said the teacher accused of disciplining students inappropriately is 26-years old and has been at the Head Start center for three years. A second teacher, aged 41 and with five years' experience in the program, was also put on paid administrative leave for allegedly seeing the students forced to take their clothes off and not reporting it.
A representative of the St. Clair County State's Attorney's office is expected to be there when the children are more thoroughly interviewed at the Children's Advocacy Center in Belleville in two weeks. Charges could follow.