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12:31 AM Wed, Sept. 19th

Teacher accused of duct-taping student's mouth

CHINO VALLEY - A teacher at Heritage Middle School, frustrated by a student's talking in class, taped the 12-year-old boy's mouth shut with duct tape to stop him, according to an attorney for the family.

It happened just over two weeks ago, attorney Jeff Adams said. He said the boy was at his desk in class, looking at a magazine a boy next to him was reading. The student saw a photo that caught his interest and said so. Teacher Geri Adams (no relation) saw the student talking to his neighbor, and, the lawyer said, walked over to her desk, pulled out a roll of duct tape, showed it to the class, then ripped off a piece and "slapped it across his mouth," he said.

Jeff Adams said she then "firmly sealed it" in place.

The student, who Jeff Adams said has respiratory problems and allergies, "labored in his ability to breathe and became distressed." He tried to pull the tape off, and was able to remove a corner of it with the help of another student.

The teacher tried to re-apply the tape, but the boy was able to talk her out of it, Adams said.

"The criminal code governing assault states that that kind of conduct constitutes aggravated assault, which is a felony," Adams said.

He also claims that, after Geri Adams was instructed by administrators to have no further contact with the boy, "she disregarded it, went up to (the student) and a friend in the lunchroom and said things that, in my view, were intended to ridicule him. That kind of thing occurred two or three times," he added.

Chino Valley Police Commander Mark Garcia said, "We did take a report on a child who had tape placed over his mouth. We will be working with the County Attorney's Office to determine whether criminal charges are warranted."

Calls to Heritage Middle School Principal Scott Muir and Chino Valley Unified School District Superintendent James Murlless seeking comment were not returned by press time.

Jeff Adams said the family is holding off on filing a civil suit until they find out what the school district plans to do.

He said the fact that the teacher spoke to the student after being told not to "demonstrates a complete failure of the policies and procedures of the school. The rule of law doesn't apply there."

Jeff Adams claims that, while the teacher is on administrative leave now, at first, school officials said she was still on the job while they conducted their own investigation. He said school district officials did not go to police until after he asked whether they had.

"Students observe and pay attention to what teachers and administrators are doing," he said. "'If a teacher can get away with breaking the rules, then I can do the same kind of thing.' That's the message that those students are given at that school."

The student's family, contacted Wednesday afternoon, declined to comment.

Geri Adams' school webpage states she moved to Chino Valley in 2006 and "started my teaching career at Heritage Middle School." She teaches language arts, reading, and is the yearbook adviser. Efforts to contact Geri Adams were unsuccessful.