The Anchorage School District’s superintendent says she responded “viscerally” to word that a teacher who allegedly abused a young autistic child had been put back in the classroom earlier this year, vowing further action from ASD.

In a Friday interview, Dr. Deena Bishop discussed the case involving Ptarmigan Elementary School teacher Lynn Sherwood. Sherwood is on paid administrative leave following the May 3 incident, during which Sherwood is accused of pushing now 9-year-old Austin Armon back into a doorway when she intervened in a student dispute over art supplies.

Although Sherwood was placed on administrative leave through May 8 the day after the incident, Bishop said someone in the district’s Human Resources department subsequently sent Sherwood back to work.

Bishop didn’t find out about that decision – which she called “an error in judgment” – until this summer, when Armon’s parents requested video of the incident from ASD. During Bishop’s response, Sherwood was again placed on administrative leave starting July 24.

“I’m outraged,” Bishop said. “This should not happen in any ASD school – any school that a child attends.”

The district has shown Armon’s parents the surveillance video, which under ASD policy has only been released to law enforcement. In addition, Austin has been offered counseling paid for by ASD’s insurers.

The superintendent said she couldn’t comment on the status of any disciplinary actions involving Sherwood or the Human Resources decision to return her to work, since both are confidential personnel matters.

Bishop asked parents for patience as ASD deals with the situation, saying that although the district’s 6,000 employees are “beyond my control” on a day-to-day basis the buck ultimately stops with her.

“I would accept responsibility and apologize because when I first found out about it, I reacted the same way – emotionally, viscerally,” Bishop said.

The district has since changed its policies to ensure that Bishop is immediately informed of any such future incidents, she said.

The district is also dealing with the repercussions of sexual abuse allegations involving Dimond High School football players that came to light last month, leading ASD to fire three football coaches. The Anchorage Police Department has forwarded the results of its criminal investigation to the state Office of Special Prosecutions, which is still reviewing the case for potential charges.

As a result of the Sherwood and Dimond incidents, ASD has been paying $12,000 a month to crisis PR firm Strategies 360 for assistance with public communications. Those payments, which are also covered by ASD’s insurance, are capped at $50,000 a year, but Bishop said she expects them to end soon as ASD completes its response to the Dimond High incident.

Editor's note: An inaccurate statement that ASD was working to provide Austin Armon's parents a copy of surveillance video from the incident has been revised.

Gina Romero and Joe Vigil contributed information to this story.

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