Employees return to Louisiana Special Education center, following investigation

ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Four employees are back at the Louisiana Special Education Center Wednesday, following a police investigation back in January.

The employees had been placed on paid leave. The Louisiana Department of Education's Press Secretary Sydni Dunn released this statement:

“The Rapides Parish District Attorney's Office has notified the Louisiana Department of Education they have found no wrongdoing relative to the allegation at the Louisiana Special Education Center in Alexandria. Staff who had been placed on paid leave out of an abundance of caution during the investigation have resumed their job duties. We appreciate their continued service and that of all educators and caregivers at the Special Education Center.”

State police started investigating allegations of serious infractions involving residents at the center in January.

"The allegations were serious enough that Dr. Cooper, the Special School District and the department referred the incident, a child-on-child incident, to the state police," said State Superintendent John White at a BESE meeting Tuesday, March 12.

The investigation was turned over to the Rapides Parish District Attorney.

"I don't think anything improper occurred between any of the patients," said District Attorney Phillip Terrell. "Initially I don't see anything improper that was done by any of the people at the special education center."

However, Terrell said the investigation is not quite over and a special prosecutor outside of the DA's office is involved.

"It is being thoroughly reviewed by a prosecutor and I think that would be the outcome," Terrell said. "But, I am not sure yet."

The news about employees returning came as a relief to LSEC parent Kerri Smith whose 13-year-old son receives care at the center.

"They have been instrumental in Will's care, in his interaction, just even in the services that he gets," Smith said.

She said she hopes the employees are able to rebuild the good name that they have.

"Their reputation be restored and have a formal apology for what has happened to them," Smith said.

Other parents have told News Channel Five the issue is one of many they have had since Interim Special School District Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper took over. BESE District 5 Representative Dr. Gary Jones has heard some of those concerns.

"Let me tell you, for the last month I've been getting phone calls, letters, emails, text messages from disgruntled people all over," Dr. Jones said.

He said he was most concerned when Dr. Cooper said he would apply for the permanent superintendent position. He said his impression is that the district is operating in fear.

"That people are walking on eggs because they think that they are going to be gone, replaced by someone that he considers loyal to him, Dr. Jones said. "My theory on leadership must be a little different from his. My theory is that you don't dictate loyalty, you earn loyalty."

We reached out to Dr. Cooper about the comments, he deferred to the state press secretary.

Cooper's interim term will end on June 8th with the legislative session, according to state law.

State Superintendent John White told the BESE board they will use an executive firm costing around $50,000 to find a permanent Special School District Superintendent.

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