A kindergarten teacher was jailed on 25 counts of indecent exposure and one count of child abuse after allegedly disciplining a 6-year-old girl by removing her shirt during class, leaving her naked from the waist up in front of other students.
Thomas Washburn, 54, was arrested Wednesday, according to KPHO-TV in Phoenix, the same day the incident reportedly occurred at Adams Elementary School in Mesa, Ariz. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that Washburn has since been released from jail and awaits a court date.
Police said something upset Washburn during class, and he started shouting at his more than two dozen students. Israel Gonzalez reported to KPHO that Washburn was “really aggressive – telling them to shut up” based on accounts from his daughter who’s in the class but is not the victim.
Police added that Washburn’s outburst frightened the victim, who hid her face in the top of her shirt. The victim’s mother said her daughter was born prematurely and is “developmentally delayed,” the police report noted.
When Washburn allegedly told the girl to take her face out of the shirt — and she failed to comply — he reportedly removed her shirt from her body, which left her her naked from the waist up in front of her classmates for about 10 minutes, police said.
The girl was crying, police added, and Washburn returned her clothing.
“Total humiliation,” Daniel Mercado, who has children who attend Adams Elementary, told KPHO. ”What is she going to do now – from first grade on? What are the parents going to think of this? Not only her parents but other parents, other parents at the school like myself? I think he went too far. He went way too far.”
Apparently it got worse.
When the victim’s mother arrived to pick up the child after school, Washburn told her what he did to the student, police said. “It doesn’t appear that he thought he had done anything wrong,” Mesa police detective Steve Berry told KPHO. ”He was simply going to tell mom what he had done to discipline the child.”
The upset mother contacted the principal’s office, police said, adding that detectives arrested Washburn and took him to Mesa Police Headquarters for an interview. He declined to answer any of the detectives’ questions.
He was booked at that time for one count of child abuse and one count of indecent exposure; police added that during the incident there was one adult aide in the classroom.
On Thursday morning detectives added an additional 24 counts of indecent exposure — one for each student present during the incident, police said.
Mesa Public Schools issued the following statement Thursday afternoon:
“Thomas Washburn has been placed on paid administrative leave and is assigned to home. The district will use the police findings as the basis for any future employment action against Washburn.
“Our first priority is the safety and security of our students. Mesa Police Department is leading the investigation, and we are working cooperatively with them. Please contact Mesa PD for information regarding the incident and investigation.
“Washburn has been employed by Mesa Public Schools since August 2006. His only assignment has been a teacher at Adams Elementary.”
The school’s website offers a profile of Washburn, quoting him as saying, in part: “Having been certified for foster care and licensed for adoption, I am looking forward to becoming a single father for the first time and am waiting the placement of children in my home. In the meantime, I have enjoyed the opportunity of taking care of several children on a respite basis.”
Also in his profile, Washburn says he’s a “Certified Conscious Discipline Instructor with Dr. Becky Bailey’s Loving Guidance,” a program he says espouses the principles that “Children don’t care what you know until they know that you care” and “Teach only love for that is what we are.”
“I try not only to teach by these philosophies but live by them as well,” Washburn notes on his profile.
Conscious Discipline is a “comprehensive self-regulation program that integrates social-emotional learning and discipline,” according to the program’s website. It adds:
Conscious Discipline is a longtime leader in the integration of classroom management with social-emotional learning, utilizing everyday events as the curriculum and addressing the adult’s emotional intelligence as well as the child’s. Conscious Discipline empowers adults to consciously respond to daily conflict, transforming it into an opportunity to teach critical life skills to children.
Conscious Discipline is evidence-based, and was named as a national model for character education by the Florida State Legislature.