EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (KMOV.com) — One of two former Metro East teachers accused of forcing children to stand naked in a closet as punishment pleaded guilty Friday.
Teacher Mary Agbehia, 28, of Edwardsville, Illinois, pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated battery and three counts of unlawful restraint in exchange for having three other counts dropped under a partial plea agreement.
Agbehia and teacher’s aide 43-year-old Shavonda Willis, of Fairview Heights, Illinois, worked for the Head Start program at the Jackie Joyner Kersey Center in East St. Louis. It’s operated by Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE) and the center’s staff are not involved in the program in any way.
SIUE police conducted the investigation when the allegations came to light in mid-March of 2019 but said the disturbing form of discipline had been going on since early February. The students involved were 4 and 5-years-old.
Agbehia is accused of ordering children to disrobe as well as removing children’s clothing herself. Willis is accused of unwelcome touch of a child by poking a girl in the arm in a provoking or insulting nature.
“I wouldn’t expect that from those teachers there. My son has been going to school there for a year now and he hasn’t had no bad experience there,” said parent Rachelle Madison.
SIUE Director of Human Resources Bob Thumith, said both women passed all background checks and had participated in 50-60 units of training since they were hired.
Since the incident, the university has reminded Head Start staff of their code of conduct and has been reviewing its policies and procedures.
“We’ve been going piece by piece and seeing, you know, is there anything that can be improved? And as with any review, we find things that we possibly could do a little bit different,” said Timothy Staples, interim director of the school’s East St. Louis Center in 2019.
Willis, who was initially charged with aggravated battery and unlawful restraint, has a hearing scheduled for Tuesday.