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Niles Community Schools teacher arrested on assault charges

NILES — A Niles Community Schools teacher was arrested last week on charges of assaulting two students.

Special education teacher Sara “Sally” Irons, of Niles, was arrested Monday, March 15, after turning herself into Niles police on a warrant for assault and battery. The charges stem from three separate incidents against two students at Southside School, which operates programs for low incidence special needs students and students who are not achieving, primarily due to an inability to control their behavior.

According to a report released by the Niles Police Department, school administrators first became aware of an incident occurring on Oct. 30, 2020, in which Irons allegedly pulled the ear of a student. The student was interviewed about the incident on Dec. 16, 2020. According to the police report, the student can be seen on video leaving a homeroom classroom cupping their ear and looking distraught on the day of the alleged incident.

When interviewed about the incident, Irons denied it had happened.

When reviewing video footage leading up to the date of the first incident, Southside administrators discovered another incident involving Irons and the same student occurring on Oct. 23, 2020. Further details were not available.

The third and final incident occurred on Jan. 12.

When in a classroom with a different student, Irons noticed the student had an unauthorized cellphone. According to the police report, Irons pushed a student up against a shelf and wrapped herself around the student from behind, “almost like a bear hug.” During this time, Irons was attempting to “snatch” and “claw” the phone away from the student. Other staff members observed the incident and intervened.

According to the police report, Adam Burtsfield, director of special education at Niles Community Schools, told police that all Southside staff are trained in Therapeutic Crisis Intervention, which teaches verbal de-escalation when incidents involving students occur. He told police that at no point should Irons have become physical with students, given the nature of the three incidents. When restraint is necessary due to immediate safety concerns, TCI requires at least two staff members, usually more. Restraint is not to be used in incidents involving the refusal to surrender personal property.

One witness told police that the technique used by Irons in the Jan. 12 incident was not one taught to staff.

On Jan. 13, Irons was placed on paid administrative leave while the district investigated the three incidents.

“At Niles Community Schools, the safety and well-being of our students is and will always be our first priority,” said Niles Community Schools Superintendent Dan Applegate in a statement to Leader Publications. “Upon hearing the allegations, we immediately placed the teacher in question on administrative leave, conducted an internal investigation and reported the incident to local authorities. Given this is a legal matter, we are unable to provide additional information at this time.”

In 2020, Irons received a Service Years Award from Niles Community Schools for 25 years of service to the district.

Irons’ lawyer could not be reached for comment as of publication.

Irons is currently out on bond and scheduled for arraignment next month.

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