AVON PARK — A 38-year-old paraprofessional at Park Elementary School has been arrested and charged with abusing two ESE pre-kindergarten students.
Cynthia Lee Heiss was arrested Thursday by members of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Special Victims Unit and charged with two counts of felony child abuse, with the specific charge code and description being cruelty toward a child/abuse without great harm.
The incident occurred April 21 in an Exceptional Student Education (ESE) pre-kindergarten classroom at Park Elementary.
Another employee reported that Heiss got angry with two students who would not calm down to her satisfaction, so she force fed a packet of jelly to one student, holding his mouth closed until he swallowed it, then stuffed a tissue in the other student’s mouth and held his mouth closed for several seconds.
The students, ages 3 and 4, did not suffer any injuries during the event, according to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.
One of the students told a school resource officer that he didn’t like jelly, but he liked his class, according to a report from the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.
A Park Elementary ESE teacher reported that she had heard Heiss sternly tell a student, “If you don’t stop, I’m going to give you jelly.”
She had heard Heiss use the phrase before, but did not understand the context of the phrase until she observed the incident, the report shows.
The teacher saw Heiss open a small square jelly container, grab the student while he was lying down on his naptime mat, force his mouth open and emptied the contents of the jelly container into his mouth, the report shows. She then shut the student’s mouth and kept it shut until he swallowed the jelly.
Then as Heiss was walking to another student, she told the teacher, “Did you know if you shove three to four tissues into his mouth it will go dry.”
Heiss then grabbed several tissues and shoved them in a student’s mouth and held his mouth shut for about five seconds before allowing the student to remove the tissues from his mouth, report states.
Heiss denied the allegations, according to the report.
The incident was reported to school administration the next day, and Heiss was immediately placed on administrative leave while the investigation was ongoing.
Heiss was hired by the School Board of Highlands County on Sept. 11, 2019.
Heiss was bonded out of the Highlands County Jail at 10:52 a.m. Friday, after posting the $10,000 bond.
This was the second incident this month that a district paraprofessional has been arrested on a charge of child abuse involving an ESE student.
Sebring High School para Shaquanya Ann Randolph, age 28, was arrested and charged April 8 with aggravated child abuse after an investigative review of a video showed she pushed and physically attacked a 16-year-old special education student.
On April 14, Randolph entered a plea of not guilty and a demand for a jury trial.