Boy, 3, allegedly locked in dark room, hit, pinched and screamed at by his pre-school teachers

Sarah Koh
The Straits Times
February 28, 2024

A three-year-old boy enrolled in a pre-school in the north-east was allegedly locked in a dark room and hit, pinched and screamed at by his teachers on more than one occasion, The Straits Times has learnt.

The boy’s mother said she lodged a police report – seen by ST – on Feb 26. She added that the boy had been attending the pre-school for more than a year, but it was only in January 2024 that she noticed the child was becoming more and more afraid of going to school.

In the evenings, meltdowns and nightmares were becoming more frequent, and he was also engaging in violent behaviour like pinching and “chopping” others, she said.

On the night of Feb 22, her son confided in her, saying his teachers had locked him in a dark room the day before, and that it had been punishment for playing with water in the school’s bathroom. He said he was alone in the room, but it is unclear for how long he was confined.

The mother said she reported the incident to the school on Feb 23.

A few nights later, the boy told the mother that the teachers had pinched him the day he was locked in the room.

On Feb 26, the school management asked her to watch closed-circuit TV footage of her son being locked in the dark room by teachers on Feb 21.

Speaking to ST, she said: “Two teachers took turns to open the door to shout at him and intimidate him as he stood there crying.”

Neither the school nor the parents can be named, as it could lead to the identity of young children being made public, which is not allowed under the Children and Young Persons Act.

In an e-mail circular sent to parents on Feb 26 and seen by ST, the pre-school’s director said the school was alerted to a recent case of “child mismanagement” and was “taking action to address this matter”.

The school has reported the incident to the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) and is fully cooperating with investigations, said the director. ECDA is a government agency that oversees kindergartens and childcare centres in Singapore.

The director added that three teachers involved in the incident have been suspended to “ensure the integrity of the investigation process and to prevent further occurrences”.

The pre-school will also bring in a counsellor to provide help to both children and staff who are affected by this incident, the director said.

The father of another child in the pre-school said he spoke to his four-year-old son after he received the circular. He asked the boy if he had experienced abuse like the three-year-old.

That was when his son said that he, too, had been locked in a dark room by teachers, and hit on the hand.

His wife then put up a post on social media about what had happened to their son.



Posted by Beanstalk ECDA on Thursday, February 29, 2024

Soon after, the father said a WhatsApp group was created for parents, several of whom said their children had been subjected to similar abuse.

The WhatsApp group now has 15 parents in it, he added.

The father said: “A lot of the parents said they are seeing their children develop behaviours such as beating themselves, screaming in the middle of the night and being afraid of admitting they had done anything wrong, for fear of punishment.

“Since the start of February, my son has also started crying because he doesn’t want to go to school, and has grown more timid.”

The father said that, so far, he has not lodged a police report, but he is considering taking legal action against the school.

The three-year-old and four-year-old have since been taken out of the pre-school.

In response to queries from ST, the pre-school’s spokesman said on Feb 29 that “any form of misconduct or abuse by staff members is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated”.

The spokesman added, without elaborating, that the school has increased walkabouts by the management and held a dialogue session with parents on Feb 27.

“We understand the gravity of the situation and the concerns of parents, and we are committed to ensuring a safe and nurturing environment for all children entrusted to us,” the spokesman said.

An ECDA spokeswoman on Feb 29 said the agency’s officers had visited the pre-school unannounced, reviewed CCTV footage, carried out interviews and verified records, as part of investigations.

She added: “Since Feb 26, 2024, the three staff in question have been suspended by the pre-school.

“To safeguard children’s safety, ECDA will not allow the staff to work elsewhere in the pre-school sector while investigations are ongoing.”

ECDA has also instructed the pre-school operator to closely monitor the children and check on their well-being, and to closely supervise and guide its employees.

The spokeswoman added that ECDA will take “firm action against pre-school educators and operators when they are found guilty of not fulfilling their duty of care to the children under their charge”.

It will also issue warnings to educators who use inappropriate child management practices, she said.

“For serious cases where there appears to be clear intent to harm the child, the case will be referred to the police for criminal investigation,” she added.

Anyone found guilty of committing serious acts of child mismanagement will be barred from working in the pre-school sector, she said.

Parents who suspect that their child has been mismanaged should report the matter to ECDA or the police, so investigations can be carried out, she said.

In response to queries, the police said a report linked to the pre-school has been lodged and investigations are under way.

The Straits Times

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