Addressing the audience during the second special school board meeting in a week, BUSD President Carlos Sanabria was apologetic and conciliatory about the district’s role in the incident.
“I take and accept responsibility for what happened,” said Sanabria, speaking for the BUSD Board. “And we as a board ultimately have to take responsibility for fixing it … we will not accept mediocrity when it comes to your children.”
The BUSD settled a $950,000 lawsuit earlier this month, brought by the family of a 5-year-old special-needs student who was physically abused by his teacher in 2010.
According to the lawsuit, on May 25, 2010, Loma Vista Elementary teacher Dina Holder, 52, threw a student to the floor for not responding to her instructions and kicked him several times. Classroom aides witnessed the event. One of the aides reported the incident to principal Laurie James two days later.
According to BUSD Superintendent Merrill Grant, James called the county’s Child Protective Services and was told the incident was not in their jurisdiction. No police report was ever filed by the district.
Holder was placed on administrative leave for the remaining four days of the 2010 school year, then transferred to Krey Elementary, where she continued to teach special-education students despite the lack of appropriate credentials, according to state records.
“In the past two weeks we have seen more anger and discord in our district than at any time in memory,” Grant said to the audience in a prepared statement. “There was no mistaking the fact that parents and others are very angry over the fact that a teacher who abused a child was not immediately fired. As the superintendent I apologize for that, and the damage it has done to the trust our community has in our school system.
“It is clear that we did not perform as we should have to fulfill our duties as mandatory reporters. There was confusion and delay over bringing this incident to the attention of the proper authorities. That should not have happened and we are determined that it will not happen again … Our response to this incident was out of step with what the parents and residents of this district expect of us.”
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Margaret Kruse addressed the audience, apologizing for her role in the incident. “Your comments today are like daggers in my heart,” she said. “Your anger is understandable, and please know that you have been heard … this isn’t done and I can only hope we can rebuild your trust.”
Kruse went on to a PowerPoint presentation outlining a series of steps the district plans to implement regarding mandated-report training and the teacher dismissal process. Among the items highlighted were documentation procedures, increased participation and outreach within the newly formed parent-organized Brentwood Community Action Committee (BCAC), plus revised and strengthened policies for employee evaluations.
“Documentation seems to be the big thing, and there are some huge gaps,” said Kruse, who added that the district would eventually retrain all current and new employees as well as substitute teachers on the new reporting policies once they’re adopted.
Tearful and emotional members of the audience addressed the board during public comment, admonishing the district and Grant for their roles in the case and calling for resignations. But others – many from the BCAC – offered to work with the district to ensure safeguards are put in place.
“Let’s get past this and change the future,” said one parent.
“Now is the time to come together and make a difference,” agreed Paige Lark, whose child was a student in Holder’s class. “Let’s make something positive going forward.”
The meeting was followed by a closed session of the board and independent counsel. There was no reportable action. The BUSD Board is scheduled to meet again on Feb. 13, the time to be determined.
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