Education

Durham Public Schools investigating alleged abuse of child at Eno Valley

Vashawne Dawson is pictured during an interview Tuesday, May 30.
Vashawne Dawson is pictured during an interview Tuesday, May 30. gchildress@heraldsun.com

The Durham Public Schools has launched an investigation into claims by the parents of an Eno Valley Elementary student who allege their child’s teacher taped his mouth shut on at least 10 occasions.

The investigation began one day after Vashawne Dawson, 39, delivered a handwritten letter to DPS charging that the teacher abused his six-year-old stepson, a kindergartner at Eno Valley, by taping his mouth shut and yanking him by his collar.

Dawson is the live-in boyfriend of Shequelia Leonard, 30, the woman who was arrested in April after she allegedly squirted lighter fluid on her son’s teacher and threatened to burn the teacher and the school.

Although he has described their relationship as a common-law marriage, North Carolina does not recognize common-law marriages.

“The investigation is well underway,” said DPS spokesman Chip Sudderth, who confirmed receipt of Dawson’s letter.

Because the school district’s Human Resources Department is under interim leadership, Sudderth said the investigation, which began Wednesday morning, is being led by the DPS Board of Education’s attorney.

Sudderth would not speculate on how long the investigation might last.

And it was unclear Wednesday how much information the school district will share publicly at the conclusion of the investigation.

Sudderth noted that student information is protected by federal law and employee information is protected by state law and school board policy.

Dawson shared the letter of complaint he sent to DPS during a sweeping interview Tuesday with The Herald-Sun during which he said his two children, a one-year-old daughter and his stepson, badly miss their jailed mother and want her to come home soon.

Dawson said his stepson told him the abuse took place on at least 10 occasions in the weeks before Dawson’s common-law wife, Shequelia Leonard, 30, met with the teacher and Eno Valley Principal Rodney Berry on April 24, the date Leonard allegedly assaulted the teacher.

“He told us how she placed tape over his mouth during class and would pick him up by his collar,” Dawson wrote in the letter to DPS. “This is very upsetting for a teacher to behave this way.”

Leonard remained in the Durham County jail on Wednesday in lieu of $500,000 bond.

Dawson said Leonard regrets the attack on the teacher, but was frustrated and angry about her son’s claims of abuse and a refusal by Berry to move the boy to another class.

“It’s heartbreaking when you can’t protect your child,” Dawson speculated. “She felt like she let her son down. I guess she was so angry that it all built up.”

Although Dawson revealed the name of the teacher in his letter to the school district, The Herald-Sun does not typically name assault victims.

Dawson and community activist Victoria Peterson have also written letters to Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson and District Court Judge James T. Hill requesting that Leonard’s bond be lowered so that she can return home to care for her young children.

“We want to get her home because her children miss her, they need her,” Dawson said. “The one year old has just started to walk and she’s going from room to room looking for her. She goes to each room door and opens each door and calls for her mama, and that right there breaks me up.”

Peterson said Leonard is due in court Thursday, June 1.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

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