Prosecutors filed a case of kidnapping against teacher in Salt Lake City, Utah, this week, alleging she had left her workplace with a six-year-old girl.
The primary school teacher was also accused of being gone for 40 minutes, despite only travelling to a neighbourhood that was less than a kilometre away.
Amy Martz, 49, didn’t inform administrators until after the girl’s worried mother came to the school searching for her daughter, who she said is autistic and mostly nonverbal.
The school teacher acknowledged that she had left Fox Hollow Elementary with the girl on September 4, but said it was because the child was “sobbing uncontrollably” and seemed to need help, the Deseret News reported.
She saw the girl outside her classroom and tried to help her find her way home, asking the child if she belonged at the bus stop or parent pick-up location, Ms Martz said.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, said school surveillance footage shows Ms Martz walking with the girl hand-in-hand off school grounds, passing by a teacher on bus duty.
They did not immediately have further comment on Friday (local time) over the charges.
Ms Martz said the child appeared to be pointing the way to her house, but as they wandered the neighbourhood the teacher realised the girl didn’t know where she was going.
At that point, Ms Martz said she went to a nearby house to call administrators.
By then, the mother was already at the school and another teacher was driving through the neighbourhood looking for the child.
The teacher brought them both back to the school.
Ms Martz, who is also an attorney specialising in education law, later said she had tried to give the girl a “piggy back” ride, court documents stated.
She said she tried to explain her intentions to the girl’s parents but they spoke Spanish and may not have understood her.
Ms Martz was reprimanded by the school and placed on administrative leave.
Attorney Cara Tangaro says Ms Martz could have handled the situation differently but argues a first-degree felony charge punishable by up to life in prison is unwarranted.
“I had no intent to interfere with the child’s trip home. I was providing safety to what I felt was a vulnerable child because she was distraught. I did not learn until later that she had autism,” said Martz, who read from a statement and did not take questions when she spoke to reporters.
“I was acting out of compassion, but I also had a duty as a school employee to provide care for this girl,” she said.
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