A Natrona County High School educator has been suspended after he allegedly hit a 14-year-old autistic student in the face Monday, the student’s sister said.
Marisol Villescas, the boy’s sister, identified the educator as Mark Brattis, an assistant teacher at the school. She alleged Brattis hit freshman Gabriel Villescas after the student hit Brattis.
Brattis was suspended, she said. Tanya Southerland, spokeswoman for the district, confirmed that a staff member was on leave and that the district was conducting an investigation. She wouldn’t confirm names or give specific details about the incident.
“When NCSD receives a report of an incident, it promptly conducts an investigation based on the school district protocols,” Southerland wrote in an email. “If an employee is involved, he or she may be placed on administrative leave during the investigation. If the situation involves a child, the Department of Family Services and/or the Police Department are notified. NCSD works closely with outside agencies as they conduct their investigations. That is what occurred in response to this report.”
Brattis did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to his district email Tuesday.
Gabriel had been in gym class and had somehow gotten out of the building. He apparently fell off of some construction equipment outside of the high school. When educators found him, they started to help Gabriel up, and he began throwing rocks at them, one of which hit Brattis in the groin, Marisol Villescas said.
After staff took Gabriel back inside, he apparently hit Brattis, who responded by open-hand smacking Gabriel in the face, the sister said.
“He’s unable to control his reactions,” Marisol Villescas continued. “Usually when he acts out like that, he feels threatened or in pain.”
Other teachers saw Brattis hit Gabriel, she said. They went to tell administrators about what happened, and Brattis joined them, apparently to turn himself in. An assistant principal at NC, Christopher Dresang, called Gabriel’s mother, who called Marisol Villescas, she said.
The sister called Dresang back, and the administrator gave her details about the incident.
“He said that Mark had admitted to striking him back,” she said. “He even felt so guilty that he had been crying about it.”
Marisol Villescas and Southerland said the Department of Family Services was also investigating. The sister said the family was waiting for the district to complete its investigation, and then they will file a police report.
She said the family’s biggest fear was that they would one day receive a phone call that Gabriel had been assaulted.
“We don’t feel that this teacher, if he was trained to begin with, we don’t feel like he was properly trained,” Marisol Villescas said, adding that the family was trying to pull Gabriel from NC. “We definitely want consequences done. We don’t feel like it’s the schools fault, we don’t feel it’s the principal’s fault. We think this individual needs to pay.”
She said that she had worked with people with disabilities before and that Gabriel hitting Brattis was no excuse for the educator retaliating. Special education instructors know what they’re signing up for, she said.
Gabriel “can’t say much,” Marisol Villescas said. “Since then, he keeps saying, ‘Mark, Mark, hit, punch, Mark, Mark, hit, school.’”