TITUSVILLE, Fla. — A Titusville elementary school teacher is accused of slamming a basketball ball into an autistic student's face to get his attention.
Oak Park Elementary School’s physical education coach James Pearson is on administrative leave.
Pearson is under investigation following the incident earlier this month with fifth grade student Darrin Joseph.
"When I was getting a drink, I heard someone say, ‘Hey,' and that's when a ball just hit me,” said Joseph.
Joseph’s family said that Pearson struck the boy, who is mildly autistic, in the face with the basketball without warning.
A photo shows swelling on Joseph’s cheek.
"He was upset. His teacher said, 'What's going on?' and the other kids were telling what happened outside with the coach,” said Joseph’s aunt, Urshala Williams.
The school contacted the Department of Children and Families, interviewed students and launched an investigation.
Titusville police are also investigating.
“The teachers are supposed to protect him. He’s a child. He shouldn’t have to live in hear,” said Joseph’s mother, Latresa Joseph.
The district said Pearson admitted throwing a ball at the boy because he was being disruptive, but told the district he just tossed it at him to get his attention, and didn't target him.
Channel 9’s Jeff Deal requested records related to past problems with Pearson and found two letters of reprimand for language with students.
One letter from 2015 reads, in part, “You called a student a ‘jerk.’ Many students overheard you say, ‘that stupid kid.’”
In Joseph’s case, there is also a discrepancy about whether it was a basketball or a soccer ball.
The investigation is ongoing.
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