Teachers indicted for abusing handicapped students

  • 2002-03-14
  • Timothy Jacobs

The Kraslava district prosecutor's office last week charged four teachers at a boarding school for mentally handicapped children with cruelty to minors and child abuse.

Inara Belska, Svetlana Zemlicka, Irina Lisjonoka, and Vladimirs Smirotkins, all teachers at the Alexandrova specialized boarding school, allegedly beat and humiliated students from January 1998 to December 2000.

Efforts to reach the teachers for comment were unsuccessful.

The Alexandrova school is in the village of Konstantinova near Latvia's border with Belarus.

According to the indictment the four teachers routinely kicked and beat the students.

"Some of the abuse was in response to the children violating certain rules of conduct at the school, but there were no grounds whatsoever for the teachers to have reprimanded the students the way that they did," said Malda Kristovska, the prosecutor in charge of the case.

In addition to striking and kicking the students, the teachers allegedly used objects, including a rubber hose, to beat the students.

"The teachers knew very well the type of school they were going to work at when they agreed to work at Alexandrovska," said Kristovska. "No one forced them. They needed to be especially caring as teachers to handicapped children. But they were brutal to them."

In October 2001, a former teacher at the school and the husband of accused teacher Lisjonoka, Olegs Lisjonoks, was convicted of violence against pupils at the school and given a suspended sentence of two-and-a-half years for abusing 23 children over a five-year period.

The Kraslava district prosecutor's office believes the sentence was too lenient because Lisjonoks does not have to serve jail time and has asked the Latgale Regional Court to reconsider the sentence.

The court's decision is not expected until April, but Kristovska feels that Lisjonoks should not only receive time in jail, he should be barred from working around children for at least five years.

But Inguna Ebela, head of the Latvian office of the international advocacy group Save the Children, is happy with the way prosecutors have handled the case so far.

"Still, I'm not sure how they would have handled the case if (President) Vaira Vike-Freiberga hadn't stepped in and told them to investigate it," she said.

According to Ebela, the Latvian president got involved in the case after Save the Children publicly announced that the former director of the Alexandrovska school, Kazimirs Kutjuns, and other teachers had routinely abused and exploited the students.

"Once she got involved, the case moved much more quickly," said Ebela. "But the president was not the only one to take such an interest in the case. Minister of Education Karlis Greskauns should be commended because there was a lot of pressure to sweep things under the rug, but he persisted and took the side of the children."

Due to health problems, Kutjuns has not yet stood trial. The Kraslava district prosecutor's office is investigating him for misallocating school funds and abusing his position at the school.

When the story first surfaced in October 2000, allegations were levied against Kutjuns that he had forced students to work on his farm, that he had stolen food from the school intended for student lunches, that he sold unpasteurized milk from his farm to the school at inflated prices, and that he had sexually abused at least one girl at the school.

So far, none of the students who were subjected to abuse have sued the school or the Kraslava Board of Education. According to Kristovska, most of the children who were abused are now attending different schools, and in most cases are under the direct supervision of their respective school directors.