An East St. Louis Head Start teacher was placed on paid administrative leave after being accused of forcing preschoolers to strip down and stand in a closet naked as punishment for misbehavior.

“Children would misbehave in class and the teacher would have them disrobe and stand them, make them stand inside a closet for five or 10 minutes as their discipline. Then they would redress and join the class,” Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Police Chief Kevin Schmoll told KMOV.

The students, ages 4 and 5, were part of a Head Start program operated by the university at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center.

Schmoll said that at one point, 4 of the 20 children in the class were forced to disrobe as part of a punishment that police believe has been going on since early February, although it was only brought to the attention of authorities last week.

“We felt that was very inappropriate and possible there’s some criminal action and some charges could come from this,” the police chief said.

The teacher behind the punishment was only identified as a 26-year-old who had been with the Head Sart program for about three years. Another teacher, a 41-year-old who has been with the program for five years was also put on paid administrative leave for allegedly witnessing the punishment, but not reporting it.

The children are expected to be interviewed at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Belleville in about two weeks, where a representative with the St. Clair County State’s Attorney Office is also expected to be there. Charges stemming from the incident could follow, KMOV notes.

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