Vestal, N.Y. — A 10-year-old student in Tioga County was hospitalized after he was reportedly attacked by his elementary school teacher, according to court papers obtained by the Ithaca Voice.


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Sharon Russo, the child’s mother, posted an image of her son’s injured shoulder and a brief account of the incident on Friday. It has since generated hundreds of comments, gotten over 100,000 likes and been shared more than 94,000 times.

Russo’s attorney says law enforcement is investigating the case, but that no criminal charges have been filed. The family is pursuing a civil lawsuit against the Vestal Central School District in connection with the reported “assault” on the child, according to Russo’s attorney.

The school district said it wouldn’t comment on the incident as a matter of policy. The Tioga County District Attorney’s Office also said it has no comment.

Russo, the child’s mother, says in her Facebook post that she has also been left without answers from both school and law enforcement authorities.

“We are left confused and without resolution or answers as to why,” Russo said.

“Why couldn’t (the teacher) ask him to leave the class, why the brutal attack that resulted in a dislocation? What kind of force and anger causes this action and injury? Why is this okay?”

Here’s the photo:

What happened?

The following is the narrative detailed in a “notice of claim” provided by Ronald Benjamin, attorney of mother Sharon Russo:

On March 17, the 10-year-old was in math class at Tioga Hills Elementary with teacher Joan Pokorok. He was sitting toward the back of the class despite a hearing impairment that requires him to sit at the front, according to the “notice of claim.”

That day, Pokorok was working on a math question in the classroom. The teacher apparently overheard the child “make a comment to the effect of ‘cmon,’” court records say.

That’s when the alleged assault occurred. “…. Immediately after the child made the above comment, Ms. Pokorok approached (the boy’s) chair whereby she viciously and violently assaulted him,” records say.

Pokorok grabbed the boy and pushed him out of the classroom, according to court records.

“She came directly behind him, dragged and lifted him up from his chair, pulled him by his right arm to the door and pushed him out into the hallway with both hands while screaming, ‘GET OUT!!!,’” the boy’s mother Russo wrote on Facebook.

“She then slammed the door, causing the teacher from the next door classroom to come out into the hallway to see what was going on. Parents reported to me that students still in the classroom sat there stunned. My son was hurting, shocked, and terrified (about) what just happened to him.”

The boy came home after school and spoke with his mother.

“I checked with parents of students in the class to see what they would say happened. They all told the same scenario that (the boy) relayed of the events,” Russo, the mother, wrote on Facebook. “(The child) complained of shoulder pain and his shoulder was making very loud popping sounds.”

The boy’s mother took the child to Lourdes Hospital’s Emergency Room in Binghamton, according to the attorney.

The child suffered the possible separation of his clavicle bone, records say. The mother’s Facebook post lists his injuries as a third degree separation of his Acromioclavicular Joint with “significant scapular winging.”

Because of the hospital visit, Child Protective Services was notified of the injury, sparking a criminal investigation from the state police, said Ray Benjamin, the attorney.

Criminal charges have not been filed, but a civil lawsuit claiming assault will be filed once the required 30-day wait period expires, according to Benjamin.

In an interview on Tuesday, Benjamin said that the teacher’s actions were both unnecessary and harmful.

“What could justify this kind of force?,” he says. “… Obviously, if there were a fight going on between two students and you had to separate them that would be one thing. But here there was no need for the use of force.”

The teacher should have simply told the boy to go to the principal’s office if she that he had done something wrong, Benjamin said.

“If the teacher felt disciplinary action was necessary, she could have said, ‘Go to the principal’s office,’” he said. Instead, “… she grabs him and throws him out of the classroom with sufficient force to dislocate his shoulder,” according to the attorney.

The “notice of claim” against the Vestal Central School District says the child has “sustained, and will continue to sustain, great pain and suffering” as a result of the incident.

The legal document also says that the school district is liable for the child’s injuries.

“The School District is liable and negligent in failing to properly investigate the history and credentials of Joan Pokorok prior to hiring her as a math teacher; failing to properly train its employees in how to interact with students while in the classroom; and failing to properly supervise its employees in connection with her actions in the classroom,” the lawsuit states.

We will update this story if the school district or the Tioga County DA’s Office responds.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.