Detroit district fires Pasteur Elementary administrator accused of choking a student

In a classroom sits an empty blue chair next to a wooden desk.
The Detroit Public Schools Community District voted to fire an elementary assistant principal and demote another administrator over an incident in September 2022 involving a student who was choked. (Catherine McQueen/Getty Images)

The Detroit Public Schools Community District board voted Tuesday to fire Ramond Pilgrim, an assistant principal at Pasteur Elementary School whom the district accused of choking a student in September. 

The board also voted to demote another Pasteur administrator and suspend her for a month without pay, because she didn’t report the incident for months after she was told about it.

Meanwhile, a teacher from Carstens Academy of Aquatic Science who was facing a termination vote over allegations that she assaulted a 11-year old student with special needs, opted to resign prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, DPSCD spokesperson Chrystal Wilson said. 

The board also heard concerns  about alleged abuse of students at Moses Field School at the hands of two paraprofessionals, as reported by a community newspaper.

District reports detail student assault

The two Pasteur employees were identified only by initials in documents accompanying the meeting agenda, and Wilson declined to share their names on Wednesday, citing privacy concerns.

But Pilgrim identified himself Tuesday when he spoke in his own behalf during the board meeting’s public comment period, before the board went into a closed session to discuss the termination recommendations.

Pilgrim choked the student and threw them into a chair, breaking it in the process, a report from the district’s investigation said, citing witness statements and video footage. The incident occurred in the auditorium of the K-6 school.

During the district’s investigation, the report added, Pilgrim said that he “acted out of self defense,” claiming that the student had “threatened his life” and that “he thought the student was going to attack him when he stood up from his seat.” He also claimed that the seat was already broken before the incident, the report said.

District officials rejected these claims, stating that the video evidence showed that the student did not walk toward Pilgrim, and that the chair was not broken until Pilgrim assaulted the student.

Pilgrim said at the board meeting that the student was given behavioral and emotional support from other school employees after the incident. He also said he communicated directly with the student’s family to inform them of the incident.  

Anthony Adams, a former Detroit deputy mayor and school board president, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in support of Pilgrim, saying the investigators’ findings weren’t consistent with the video footage.

“This was a man who’s worked with this student who’s tried to help him out, trying to make sure that he is in a positive learning environment,” Adams said. “And now he’s been, I almost say, railroaded with an investigative report that is completely inconsistent with the facts.”

The district’s investigation report said the other administrator was notified of the altercation in November and did not report the incident until January of this year, claiming it was an “oversight.” The administrator later stated that after watching the video, she believed Pilgrim acted in self-defense.

In the incident at Carstens Academy of Aquatic Sciences near the start of the school year, a teacher identified only as “CV” in a district report “lunged at, chased, grabbed, tumbled to the floor with, and tussled with an 11-yr-old student with disabilities throughout the school and onto the school bus,” said the report, which was deleted from the board’s published agenda.

The teacher proceeded to “physically engage the student until the student exited the bus,” after which the bus driver reported the incident to their own supervisor. A police report filed by the student’s parents said the student was found to have scratches.

During the district’s investigation, CV claimed that the student initiated the “playful banter,” and that she was unaware that the student had special needs, even though she had previously taught the student.

Paraprofessionals at special education center placed on leave

At Moses Field, one of the district’s centers for students with special needs, two paraprofessionals are on administrative leave over allegations they abused children who had cognitive impairments. Among the allegations detailed in the Detroit Native Sun’s report, which cited surveillance video: One of the paraprofessionals dragged a student down a hallway by his ankles, and weeks later whipped him with a ruler. 

Aliya Moore, a district parent, said at Tuesday’s meeting that she was troubled by the allegations. She said she had heard about them from a teacher at Moses Field, and promptly called into the Michigan Abuse Line.

In an email to Chalkbeat, DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said that district officials learned of the allegations in January. 

“At that time, we immediately removed one paraprofessional and then another one when additional allegations surfaced,” Vitti said. Both employees are on administrative leave while an investigation is ongoing, he added, and families of students who were allegedly abused have been informed by the school leaders.

“These instances do not appear consistent with a lack of training or understanding of restraint, but abuse,” he said. “The School Board and I have been very clear that child abuse has no place in our school district and when the evidence clearly shows that children have been hit or abused the employee discipline is typically termination.”

An arrest warrant for one of the paraprofessionals was denied, according to a spokesperson from the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, citing “insufficient evidence to charge in that case” following a review of the incident by an assistant prosecutor.

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

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