Freeport protest

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“We’re not skipping lunch because it’s fun,” said Arrianna Zellner, one of the students who organized the protest. “We don’t want to go hungry. We’re doing this for them.”

By Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @heatheronwfdn |

FREEPORT — Freeport High School students staged a protest during their lunch break Wednesday against alleged abuse of special needs students.

About 30 students chanted “Help us help them” as their special needs schoolmates walked toward them at 11:25 a.m. to join the protest.

This was the third day a group of exceptional student education (ESE) pupils did not attend class after ESE teacher’s aide Kelly Woodworth was accused of physical and mental abuse.

“We’re not skipping lunch because it’s fun,” said Arrianna Zellner, one of the students who organized the protest. “We don’t want to go hungry. We’re doing this for them.”

Katelynn Deakle — a sister to one of the special needs students — was among several protestors who cried during the event.

“It’s hard to see them go through this,” Deakle said as she wiped tears onto her jacket.

The accusations were brought to light Feb. 22 when April and John Dunaway filed a complaint with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office after learning Woodworth allegedly flipped over a desk with their special needs daughter seated in it.

April Dunaway said her 17-year-old daughter, Abagail, who is on the autism spectrum, told them about the incident during a parent-teacher meeting last week. The special education teacher, Terrica Carlock, confirmed the student’s allegation during the meeting. Carlock said the incident occurred last October.

Woodworth was barred from school grounds Tuesday and, according to Principal Tripp Hope in an email to parents, will not be allowed on campus until the Florida Department of Children and Families completes an investigation.

When Abagail was asked how she felt about the protest, she said she wasn’t nervous because she’s “strong and bold.”

Hope also was outside during the protest, but told the Daily News he had no comment. He did say, however, that the newspaper needed to fact check the details of the case. He did not specify which details.

During the protest, teachers were instructed over the intercom to take “accurate roll” in their classes.

Hope said 11 students who skipped class to attended the protest will receive one day of lunch detention.

“They weren’t punished for going to the ‘protest,’ ” Hope said. “They were punished for missing class. We want our kids to have a voice. We encourage our kids to speak up.”

The students who were at the protest during their lunch time will not receive a detention, according to Hope.

Zellner said she was disappointed by the small number of students who participated. She said she believed if it were a neurotypical student who had been allegedly abused, every one of the 355 or so students enrolled at Freeport would have stood with them.


“What makes it different for them (special needs students)?” Deakle added.

Carlock, who said she was fired Friday without a reason given, told parents about several other instances in which she believed Woodworth had physically and verbally abused her former students.

Carlock said she was not allowed to tell parents about the alleged abuse while still an employee. However, she did say she reported the incidents to administrators and the Department of Children and Families.

Parents are also accusing Hope and Freeport’s school resource officer of being physically aggressive with another student on the autism spectrum.

The Walton County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating that complaint as well as the Woodworth complaint.

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