Mount Markham Elementary School Principal James LaFountain acknowledged Wednesday he could have handled things differently when dealing with a “disruptive” third-grade student early this year.
After recently receiving training on how to handle such children as a school administrator, LaFountain saw his misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal” as long as he commits no wrongdoings in the next six months.
LaFountain, 57, of Utica, appeared in Winfield Town Court Wednesday night, just hours after a private meeting between LaFountain and the student’s family at the Herkimer County District Attorney’s Office earlier that day.
During that meeting, LaFountain apologized to the special needs student and his parents for scaring him, while also admitting his actions weren’t the best approach, attorneys said.
“He realizes that it probably should have been handled in a slightly different manner,” said LaFountain’s defense attorney, Donald Gerace. “I think Mr. LaFountain is relieved that the criminal charge has been disposed of and he’s grateful for the District Attorney’s Office for fully investigating the matter.”
An order of protection against LaFountain has also been modified from “stay away” to “refrain from” any harassing behavior toward the child.
LaFountain has been placed on paid administrative leave since he was accused of grabbing a “disruptive” student by the collar of his jacket on Jan. 18 and “guiding” him to a counselor’s office when the young boy refused to walk.
Although the criminal side of this case has been resolved, LaFountain’s future with the district is still unclear. LaFountain is awaiting an administrative proceeding to determine whether any disciplinary action will be taken, said attorney Robert Applegate, who represents the school board.
“Mr. LaFountain would like to return to his job,” Gerace said.
Herkimer County Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Carpenter said he believes this is a “just result” for the case, considering LaFountain’s background and the psychological trauma suffered by an innocent child.
Because LaFountain’s recent training through United Cerebral Palsy has now better informed him regarding the use of restraint and physical force involving children, Carpenter believes this matter should serve as a lesson for other school staff members.
“I think training is of the utmost importance for teachers and teacher aides, especially when it comes to dealing with special needs children and how you handle those children,” Carpenter said. “Hopefully going forward, school systems and administrators will seek out that training, which is available.”