CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) - A Chesapeake parent says a teacher assaulted her daughter during a lesson about Islamic hand symbols.
Court documents say Tara Harris is charged with assault and battery of a minor. Harris' class at Butts Road Intermediate School was full of special education students.
The parent, Stephanie Bennett, says the assault happened October 2. Bennett secured a warrant Oct. 11. Bennett says several classmates witnessed the incident.
Bennett declined 10 On Your Side's interview request Thursday, saying she wanted to speak to her attorney first. Harris' husband, Dale Harris, told WAVY.com the narrative Bennett wrote on court documents simply isn't true.
"It's a lie," said Dale Harris. "It's just an outright lie."
In court documents , Bennett says Butts Road Intermediate School teacher Tara Harris had been teaching a Muslim hand gesture, for 'power and strength' for 'two days straight.' Bennett claims her 10-year-old daughter could not master the skill, and, as a result, was assaulted by Harris.
Bennett writes: "Ms. Harris went over to aggressively and grabbed hand out of the desk, when she did, finger got caught on her folder and ripped the skin off of finger. Finger was bleeding pretty bad when Ms. Harris continued to twist finger very aggressively."
Dale Harris says the school first alerted his wife to the allegations she was teaching Muslim culture in the classroom.
"She said, 'Dale, I've been accused of teaching the children Muslim hand gestures, playing Muslim music and praying five times a day,'" he said.
Dale says his wife does not practice the Muslim faith and was not teaching it in the classroom. He says the assault charge came as a surprise.
"It's gone from just allegations to assault," he said.
Dale says Tara Harris never taught hand gestures of any kind and never aggressively touched a child in her 26 years in the Chesapeake school system.
"This is defamation of character by people who she doesn't know, she's never seen, and Chesapeake city schools is not standing behind her," said Dale Harris. "She's very, very, very upset."
Tara Harris has taught at three schools in Chesapeake over a span of 26 years, according to her husband. Dale Harris believes the school system is targeting his wife because she accused a principal of assault in 2008. Harris says, now, his wife is afraid to go to school, and even more afraid her long career is ruined.
"I know my wife is afraid and I'm afraid for her," he said.
Chesapeake schools spokesperson Tom Cupitt would not address the allegation, saying this is a personnel matter.
Cupitt did say Harris has been suspended and her pay is being put into an escrow account.
Harris is a new teacher at Butts Road Intermediate School in Chesapeake. The school's September newsletter says Harris was "joining our staff as our additional fifth grade learning disabilities special education teacher."
Harris is due in court Monday, Oct. 22.
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