A Louisiana Christian school headmaster, a pastor and former "Survivor" contestant who was arrested last week after he taped students’ mouths shut as a form of discipline, is defending his actions, claiming the pupils were bullying their teacher.
John Raymond, 60, headmaster of Lakeside Christian Academy in Slidell, was arrested Thursday on three counts of cruelty to juveniles, the Slidell Police Department said in a news release.
A police investigation found that on March 18, Raymond used a roll of packing tape to tape the mouths of three 13-year-old students shut after they were removed from a class for "excessive talking," according to the release.
He wrapped the tape "around their heads" and sent them back to class for about 45 minutes, police said. Another school administrator felt uncomfortable and allegedly removed the tape from the children’s faces, according to the police account.
Police said the tape had to be removed with scissors because it was wrapped around the students’ heads.
“During the encounter, the students claim they had trouble breathing and that the removal process was painful,” police said.
Raymond disputed the police account of events in a lengthy statement posted on the school's website Sunday, saying that the students involved had bullied their teacher, he used a piece of Scotch tape just over their mouths — not around their heads, and the tape was on for no more than 10 minutes.
He explained that on March 17, a seventh grade teacher came to him in tears, “ready to terminate her employment over the repeated disruptive behavior of her students” who incessantly talked in class. She asked for his help, Raymond said.
The incident involved five teenage boys in the class, according to the statement. Raymond said he had to address this class multiple times since the beginning of the school year for behavioral problems.
He said he spoke to the students in a hallway, not in his office, and told them, “I love you, but this has been going on all year and it has to stop immediately.”
He then allegedly pulled out a roll of clear Scotch packing tape and gave them the ultimatum: "I’m going to give you a choice. We can either go downstairs and call your parents and you can wait in the lobby to be suspended, or you can get tape on your mouth and learn how to be quiet during class.”
He said all five students chose tape.
“I pulled off one piece at a time and carefully placed it over their mouths making sure that it did not touch their nose or interfere with their breathing. At no time was tape wrapped around any student’s head," Raymond wrote.
After the tape was applied, he said he asked the students if they were in pain and they “unanimously shook their heads no.” Raymond said he asked if they could breathe normally and they nodded again. He noted that the students could have pulled the tape off at any time.
Raymond took the kids back to class and told the principal what he did, according to his statement. The principal said she was not comfortable and he offered to let them "sit it out" for about 10 minutes, Raymond wrote. She countered with two minutes and he agreed, the statement said.
Minutes later, the two of them called the students out of the classroom and "gently" took off the tape, he said, adding none were harmed or indicated discomfort.
Raymond said the tape could not have been applied for “more than eight to ten minutes total" from the time it was put on and removed.
He stressed the school as a zero-tolerance bully policy.
“This means students cannot bully each other or bully the teachers,” Raymond said.
He said of the five teens involved, the parents of three pressed charges. The other two students have been “attending school as usual,” and their parents are supportive of the discipline, he said.
"We love all of our students at Lakeside and strive to maintain a safe and effective learning environment. Building character in teenage boys can be difficult," Raymond said. "These students were given a choice between suspension and the temporary tape. They were never in any physical pain. Their breathing was never impaired. The tape was never wrapped around their heads. And it was off in under ten minutes. No student was ever treated with cruelty or harmed in any way."
Raymond was booked into Slidell City Jail on Thursday after he turned himself into police.
He appeared on the show “Survivor” in 2002. He is also a member of the Louisiana Republican Party State Central Committee and ran a failed bid for the Louisiana House of Representatives in 2018, the Lafayette Daily Advertiser reported.