A special needs teacher accused of putting an autistic 2nd grader head-first into a trash can testified that she was joking around with the child when she did it.
The teacher is charged with child cruelty, and on Monday, the school system took steps to fire her.
Mary Katherine Pursley faced a tribunal – something she requested in a fight to keep her job.
It's a panel of retired educators who will determine whether the district has grounds to fire her for incompetency and insubordination. This is unrelated to the criminal charges.
Pursley does not deny the trash can incident. On Monday, she had a chance to explain it.
"I had a strong hold of him," she said. "He wasn't flailing around or anything. I had strong hold of him. He was crying. He was screaming already, very loudly.
Pursley told the tribunal she took the action because the student -- referred to as "T" -- had been hitting other students and screaming. The incident occurred at Mt. Bethel Elementary School on April 30, after school, with several witnesses.
"She told him that he, if he was continuing to talk trashy – that trashy talk, trashy behavior – belonged in the trash can" said Lynne Parry, special education paraprofessional at Mt. Bethel.
Pursley does not deny that. She testified she used a reference to Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street, telling him she wanted to shake it out."
"Like a shake shaker or to shake his grouchys," she said.
Pursley described how she scooped the boy up with his legs over her right arm and his shoulder on her left arm.
"I just went like this," she said.
"Was he facing up or facing down or facing sideways?" she was asked.
"He was facing up," she answered. "He was looking at me in the face."
She says she and "T" had a loving, joking relationship, but a district investigator says the child had a different view of the incident.
"In his testimony to me, he did not take it as being joking. He did not see it as being teased," said investigator Chris Dowd. "His demeanor changed. He clenched his fist and got visibly angry and stated, she makes me so angry, I just want to get away from her."
The tribunal will make a recommendation to the Cobb School Board, which will ultimately decide if Pursley should continue teaching. The panel has until Friday to decide.