“Until this all came out I was very proud of my school district,” said Robert Stewart, whose son was a student in the convicted teacher’s classroom from 2004-06. “We trusted Dina (the teacher) and the district and they let us down … I guess it’s all about the money.”
BUSD Attorney Laurie Juengert outlined the procedures involved in terminating tenured teachers, noting that the process is both expensive and highly regulated. “This is a very arcane and complicated process,” said Juengert. “Child abuse is not enumerated in the Ed Code (as a dismissible offense) … If you’re unhappy, I’m going to tell you again and again to go to the legislature.”
But Juengert’s explanation didn’t satisfy the standing-room-only crowd that addressed the BUSD trustees for nearly 90 minutes, calling at one point for Superintendent Merrill Grant’s resignation as well as the board’s.
“Will Merrill Grant have the courage to speak up?” asked Denise Lum. “He is supposed to be the leader of our district, but you all sit up there and don’t answer questions. You should all be ashamed. Shame on you, Merrill Grant.”
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 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.
Caneel Carlin, the mother of the student, filed a police report in June of 2010 after learning of the incident from James. Holder pleaded no contest to misdemeanor child abuse in 2011, and was sentenced to four years probation, a year of child-abuse training and was ordered to stay away from the student.
In January of 2012, the Carlin family filed a suit against the school district, Holder and James, citing battery, negligence and failure to report the incident as mandated by law. As part of the settlement agreement, Holder has been ordered out of the classroom and into a desk job and will retire at the end of the current school year.
Jen Schwartz, a teacher in the district and the parent of a special-needs student, said she understood the legalities involved in the case, but couldn’t condone the district’s handling of the situation.
“I get the legal part. It’s the moral and ethical part I have problems with,” said Schwartz. “You put a teacher who abused a child back in the classroom. As a parent, please know I hold you responsible, and you are my boss. My feelings here have gone from anger to disgust to pure disappointment.”
Stephanie Stewart, whose non-verbal child was a student in Holder’s class, tearfully addressed the board. “I understand I have three minutes, so I am just going to stand here for my remaining time because that’s all my son could do,” said Stewart, as the audience shouted its support.
While the board was mostly quiet, Board President Carlos Sanabria told the audience that the issue was not over and that the board would be updating its mandatory reporting process. Trustee Heather Partida added that the board would be meeting with an independent counsel next week during a special meeting Tuesday. The meeting will be held at 4 p.m. at the district office.