First-Grade Teacher Accused of Assault Last Year: Student's Mom

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Nine of Susan Burke's first-graders say they were choked, hit and scratched last month. The mother of another child says the problems date back to last year when she first told the school her daughter's teacher was trouble. (Published Monday, Oct 17, 2011)

    A teacher accused of assaulting nine of her first-grade students was reported for assault a year ago, according to a mother in Montgomery County, Md.

    Christine Harris said her daughter was pinched and hit by 35-year-old Susan Burke when the 35-year-old first-grade teacher was the girl's kindergarten teacher at Greencastle Elementary School in Silver Spring last year, NBC Washington's John Schriffen reported. Harris said she reported it, but nothing happened.

    "Maybe other kids that did get hurt by her wouldn't have got hurt by her," Harris told Schriffen.

    Neither Montgomery County Public Schools nor the Montgomery County Education Association, which represents the teachers, had a comment for NBC Washington -- the former not commenting because it is a private personnel issue.

    Meanwhile, the mother of one of the alleged victims in the latest investigation thought there may have been a misunderstanding when her son said his first-grade teacher grabbed him around the neck and choked him while he was standing in line with classmates in December. Sharon Durham said she confronted the teacher, Susan Burke, about the incident, but Burke did not seem to know what she was talking about. Durham didn't get a chance to talk to the principal about her concerns before Christmas break. On Jan. 4, Burke was removed from the classroom after other students made similar accusations.

    Burke seemed a little frazzled at times, but never aggressive, Durham said. Her 7-year-old son told her that Burke had choked him on two occasions and that he had seen her push other students, sometimes to the ground, she said.

    "I don't know what triggered it. Maybe she had short patience," Durham said outside the school on Wednesday morning. "But that doesn't excuse what she did."

    Burke, of Laurel, Md., was charged Tuesday with nine counts of second-degree assault. Several students witnessed the assaults, police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks said.

    Police began investigating on Jan. 7, when officers were called to a police substation for a child abuse report involving a boy who said his teacher had assaulted him numerous times. Detectives interviewed all 16 students in Burke's current class and determined there were nine victims, police said.

    Nine of the 6- and 7-year-old students reported that Burke choked them, and some said she also kicked, punched or scratched or tightly squeezed their arms. Eight said the attacks happened in December and a ninth in March, authorities said.

    Court records show that Burke is in the process of getting divorced, and that she and her husband are listed as defendants in a foreclosure case. Records also show that Burke was charged with fraud, credit-card misuse and theft last year in Carroll County, but the charges were dropped.

    Burke was removed from the classroom and placed on administrative leave when staff learned of the allegations, school officials said. Counseling has been made available to students and their families, and the school notified parents of the arrest.

    Durham praised the principal's response and said the school has been in constant communication with parents.