INDIANOLA, Okla. — A school principal was charged with two felony counts of child abuse after parents reported what they called excessive bruises he left on two students he paddled.
Gary Gunckel, principal of Indianola Public School, turned himself into the Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office on Monday, according to KFOR.
According to court documents, the students, a 10- and 11-year-old, were being punished for arguing. Gunckel brought them into his office where he allegedly gave one two swats, and the other three. That student fell over after the first strike came down.
Parents told deputies the children "appeared to have trouble sitting or standing," complaining about the pain.
That's when parents of both kids found bruising and welts, even breaking in the skin.
Swats on the rear as punishment is a practice in place at Indianola Public Schools, only used on students with permission from parents. But in this case, the parents of both students felt Gunckel took the punishment too far, insisting there's a difference between correction and downright abuse.
"Whether it's child abuse or assault, anytime there's visible marks or a sign of an assault, then, you know, parents were demanding that charges be filed," Sheriff Chris Morris said. "They felt that their children were spanked too hard, and we've got a job to do, and we investigate it, and we forward everything to the district attorney."
Gunckel called the parents to apologize, saying "he was sorry [the student] bruised easily, and that "they were supposed to hurt so that [the student] would remember not to do what [they] were doing anymore."
News 4 went to Gunckel's home hoping to hear his side of the story, but no one answered the door.
Superintendent Adam Newman declined to meet in person, but said in a statement posted on the school's website:
"On Friday, September 28, 2018 felony charges of child abuse by injury
were filed against Indianola Public Schools Elementary Principal, Gary
Gunckel. The charges relate to student discipline that took place at
school. Mr. Gunckel has been placed on administrative leave while the
legal process determines the outcomes.
Although federal law prohibits any school district from disclosing
specific information related to an individual child’s discipline or their
student records, Mr. Gunckel followed district policy. In addition to
following district policy, all administrators are asked to contact parents
and offer alternatives to the discipline options.
While the district has a policy in place that outlines the student
discipline, including the types of discipline methods available for
administrators to utilize, the administration will seek out input from our
community and parents, to determine their thoughts and opinions on
whether or not we will move to change the discipline policy."
One of the parents of the students says the entire ordeal has been frustrating and disappointing because the actions by school officials do not appear to have the students' best interest in this case, only Gunckel's.