A New Jersey preschool director has been terminated after she disciplined two four-year-olds by making them hold a steak knife, and telling them that she'd slice off their fingers and discard them if they didn't behave.
64-year-old Adetokunbo Akinnaso, administrator of the Dawn To Dusk Christian Childcare and Learning Center of Plainfield, New Jersey, pleaded guilty last week to two counts of fourth-degree child abuse in New Jersey Superior Court.
Raymond Moss, the father of threatened student Elijah Moss, said, "My child and another child were being disciplined at the time they were brought to the director's office. At that time a knife was pulled out and she told my child she was going to cut his fingers off if he does not behave."
Moss said that shortly after the incident he could tell something was troubling his son, but Elijah refused to talk about what it was. Usually a 'bundle of joy,' he would avoid eye contact and mumble when his parents tried to sort out what the issue was.
"He's the comedian of our family, putting on skits and trying to make us laugh," Moss said. "But as soon as we sit him down and try to have these conversations, he goes to another place."
Shortly thereafter, Moss was contacted by an investigator with the state's Department of Children and Families, citing an incident involving his son and the Dawn to Dusk Christian Childcare and Learning Center. The investigator informed him that staff had witnessed Akinnaso brandishing a knife in front of Elijah and another boy when they were being reprimanded in her office.
"As soon as I found out I left my job and picked my son up," Moss said.
Days later, the Department of Children and Families Office of Licensing released a report containing even more information: "A named staff member placed a serrated steak knife on 2 children's hands and threatened to cut them off and throw them in the garbage can."
The report noted that Akinnaso's threat went against requirements that the preschool 'ensure the children's health, safety' as well as 'prohibit corporal and/or emotional punishment.' It also uncovered other issues at the school, like unsafe conditions via damaged property, and letting a staff member who didn't pass a Child Abuse Record Information background check work with children.
Following her dismissal and criminal charges, Adetokunbo Akinnaso attempted to apply for Pretrial Intervention, which "provides defendants, generally first-time offenders, with opportunities for alternatives to the traditional criminal justice process of ordinary prosecution."
However, the law also stipulates that there is a "presumption against admission into a program of supervisory treatment...if the crime or offense charged involved violence or the threat of violence." It goes on to clarify that someone who threatens violence is a person who "threatens by word or gesture to use a deadly weapon...or threatens to inflict serious or significant bodily injury." Given the specific conditions of Pretrial Intervention, Akinnaso was not allowed to participate in the program.
Though Akinnaso is facing legal penalties for her actions, Raymond Moss still wonders why she's not facing weapons or threats charges. According to the prosecutor's office, the charges issued are the only ones they thought would stick.
"I can't be judge and jury, but whatever the hardest penalty is, I want to see it played out," he said. "That knife was put inside my child's hand."
The prosecutor's office has recommended she be sentenced to probation, but the judge will decide on the length. Also part of her plea, Akinnaso agreed to have no communication with the victims and their families and to never again work with children professionally.
Do you think her punishment is adequate, or too much/too little? What do you think motivated her to do what she did? Is corporal punishment ever justified? Let us know in the comments down below!
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