Ex-preschool employee pleads guilty in naked punishments

February 1, 2022 GMT

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) — A former southern Illinois preschool employee accused of punishing children by making them stand naked in a closet has pleaded guilty to four felony charges.

Shavonda L. Willis, 44, of Fairview Heights, pleaded guilty on Friday to three counts of unlawful restraint, one count of aggravated battery and a misdemeanor charge, said Chris Allen, spokesman for the St. Clair County state’s attorney’s office. Five other charges she had faced were dismissed.

Willis pleaded guilty 10 days before her jury trial was set to begin, the Belleville News-Democrat reported. She is scheduled to be sentenced on April 19.

Willis and Mary M. Agbehia, 29, of the Chicago-area community of South Holland, both had worked for a federally funded Head Start program operated by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis.

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Authorities said in 2019 that four or five children ages 5 years and under were subjected to the punishment of being forced to stand naked in a closet at the preschool for five or 10 minutes with the door open before they could put their clothes back on and rejoin class.

Agbehia pleaded guilty to five felonies in July, three days before her trial was set to begin. She was sentenced in September to one year in prison and 24 months of probation.