The trial for a former Benton County teacher accused of striking a student last year began Tuesday (Oct. 15) in Bentonville.
Pamela H. Nelson is charged with misdemeanor third-degree battery or harassment, according to the Benton County Circuit clerk.
That is a reduced charge from the felony charge of second-degree battery that the prosecutor previously filed against her, records show.
Nelson has denied hitting the student.
“I would never strike a child. I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years,” she said. “I have children, and I would never strike a child.”
In an effort to raise money for Nelson's legal defense, a student designed T-shirts, pictured here, that are selling for $15 each, she said. (See the video above for Jocelyne's interview with the student.)
Nelson’s jury trial had been scheduled to begin July 9 but was pushed back because three child-rape trials that week had priority, officials said.
The jury trial is scheduled to be held in the Division 2 courtroom of Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren.
At an arraignment on Nov. 13, Nelson, 58, pleaded not guilty to striking a student on Oct. 1 at the Benton County School of the Arts in Rogers while she was a middle school choir and computer keyboarding teacher there, officials said. Not guilty pleas are standard at arraignments to allow the case to proceed in the legal system.
Nelson was arrested in October 2012 and was fired from the school after a 12-year-old male student said she hit him on the back. She was released from the Benton County Jail on a $5,000 bond on Oct. 3, 2012, one day after being booked into jail, records show.
The school board’s decision in early October to fire Nelson, who was making $33,000 annually in her first year teaching at that school, came at the recommendation of Superintendent Paul Hines.
According to an affidavit of probable cause filed Oct. 3, 2012, Nelson and the school's principal, Julia Rice, had warned a computer keyboarding class to quiet down. After the principal left, the 12-year-old student told a friend to stop playing a game on the computer or they would get in trouble.
At that point, Nelson appeared behind the 12-year-old student and struck him on the upper left side of his back, the affidavit states. His friend said, "She just hit you."
A few moments later, the student asked to go to the principal's office and called his mother, the affidavit states. The boy's mother then called the principal, who confirmed the student had a raised red hand print on his back, the court document states.
About seven hours after the incident, a police officer who had seen an earlier photograph of the red mark looked at the 12-year-old student's back and noticed the mark had faded but was still barely visible, the affidavit states.