Preschool staffers suspended after allegedly forcing children to stand naked inside closet as punishment

Preschool children were allegedly forced to strip naked and stand in a closet for five or 10 minutes as punishment last week in East St. Louis, Ill., prompting the suspensions, without pay, of a teacher and her assistant, reports said Tuesday.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) runs the Head Start program held at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis, where there is a class of about 20 preschoolers, SIUE Police Chief Kevin Schmoll told reporters.

“The one teacher said she didn’t learn this anywhere, this is what she tried and felt it would calm the children down by doing this,” Schmoll told FOX 2 of St. Louis. “But it’s obviously in no teaching manual anywhere. It’s inappropriate and against the law to do this.”

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Police believe the students were ages 4 and 5, and at least four young boys in the classroom were punished in the alleged incident, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The teacher is a 26-year-old woman, while her assistant is 41 years old, FOX 2 reported. Schmoll told the station that the teacher admitted to the punishment, while the assistant is in trouble for not intervening or reporting it.

Program leaders sent parents a letter to explain a "child safety violation" in the classroom, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“Under no circumstances does the program condone or tolerate inappropriate treatment towards children, family or staff,” the letter said.

A spokesperson for the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation issued a statement late Tuesday saying that program is run "completely independently" from the center programming and foundation.

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"Our staff was in no way involved in this alleged incident and had no knowledge of what happened in this case," the statement said. "As a Foundation that dedicates itself to improving the lives of children, we were deeply saddened to hear this alleged incident occurred and know that appropriate legal actions are being taken."

The St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s office is expected to review the case for potential charges, Schmoll told the Post-Dispatch.