Charges against principal on paid administrative leave may be dropped, future at Mt. Markham Elementary unclear
WEST WINFIELD, N.Y. (WKTV) - A local elementary school principal accused of using excessive force on a student in the Mount Markham District was back in court Wednesday night. If certain criteria are met, the charge against James LaFountain, will be dismissed.
State Police say back in February James LaFountain grabbed the collar of a developmentally disabled student during an incident at school. LaFountain was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
"Anytime that physical force is used on a child in a school system it is investigated. This particular case an arrest was made based upon the evidence that we had and I believe a just outcome was reached on this case," said Acting Herkimer County District Attorney Jeff Carpenter.
LaFountain says he worked closely with the child on a regular basis. "The student and I spent a lot of time together. He was a bit of a challenge but he was a good kid. And we spent a lot of time together. We do a lot of one on one things and he was a good kid. He had a bad day," said LaFountain.
LaFountain appeared in the Town of West Winfield Court Wednesday night. The judge ruled that if LaFountain stays out of trouble for the next six months, the charges will be dropped. "Fortunately I think the parents of this minor child were very reasonable in this resolution and I give them credit for resolving this case on this basis," said Carpenter.
There are some other stipulations to the dismissal. LaFountain must not violate any laws, he must adhere to a "refrain from" order that the judge issued and he must attend some specialized training classes. LaFountain recently took those classes at Upstate Cerebral Palsy and says he asked officials within the Mount Markham School District for specialized training in the past. "I just think that any child that's in a school deserves to have administrators and staff that are trained in child restraint and diffusing situations before you have to restrain somebody," said LaFountain.
Herkimer County Acting District Attorney Jeff Carpenter is happy with the outcome of the case. "I think people are satisfied with the outcome. I think we have a just result. He has assured us as well as the court that going forward and based upon his new training that it would have been an isolated incident and he will handle the situation like this differently in the future."
LaFountain also met with the victim and family at the District Attorney's Office earlier Wednesday afternoon. It was there that he issued an apology. "The defendant apologized for his conduct with regard to this incident and has undergone specialized training dealing with the use of restraint in the school system. I believe the family is satisfied with the apology...and the fact that he did acknowledge that he didn't handle that specific incident properly," said Carpenter.
The child was not physically injured, but Carpenter says he was afraid- and has since undergone some therapy. "Based upon our meeting today I think the child is in a better position and ready to move forward and put this behind him," said Carpenter.
So will LaFountain be back on the job this fall? That is now in the hands of the school district. He was placed on paid administrative leave back in February- pending the outcome of this case. Now it's up to school officials to decide whether or not LaFountain gets his job back. LaFountain's attorney says there is strong support for that to happen. "I know Mr. LaFountain wants to be reinstated. He loves Mt. Markham. He enjoys being the principal of that school and I think he hopefully will be given a chance to do that in the future, " said attorney Donald Gerace.
"I'm hoping the school district will follow suit and be as thorough as the DA has been in particular because of my requests for training in child restraint were refused throughout the last 16 or 17 months of my time as a principal of the elementary school," said LaFountain.
Our calls and emails to the Mount Markham School District have not been returned.