EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — A teacher at an East St. Louis preschool accused of forcing students to strip naked as a punishment pleaded guilty to five felonies Friday.
Mary M. Agbehia pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated battery and three counts of unlawful restraint in exchange for having three other counts dropped in connection with the 2019 incident.
Agbehia and another woman, Shavonda Willis, were accused of making two young boys strip naked — or forcibly removing their clothing — and making them stand nude in a classroom closet as punishment.
The incidents reportedly happened while the teachers were working at a preschool run by SIU-Edwardsville inside the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis. Police responded to the school on March 14 for a report of child abuse. Another child told police they witnessed the punishments.
A judge will decide whether she is sentenced to prison or probation. Class 4 felonies can result in 1-3 years in prison; Class 3 felonies can result in 2-5 years.
Online court records say Willis is scheduled to be back in court on Tuesday for a status hearing.
The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation released the following statement at the time of the incident:
“The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation would like to take a moment to clarify some inaccuracies in some recent media reports regarding the situation that recently happened at the SIUE Head Start Program. The SIUE Head Start Program leases space at the back of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center however the program is run completely independently from the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center programming and Foundation. Our staff was in no way involved in this alleged incident and had no knowledge of what happened in this case. As a Foundation that dedicates itself to improving the lives of children, we were deeply saddened to hear this alleged incident occurred and know that appropriate legal actions are being taken.”