The BUSD held a four-hour board meeting Jan.18 to discuss the situation. Trustee Heather Partida said she told the rest of the board she thinks the district should hire outside legal counsel to help the board determine the sequence and legality of events that led to a child abuse lawsuit filed against the district in 2012. The BUSD settled the suit this month by agreeing to pay $950,000 in damages.
“It has become clear to me that I was not made aware of a great deal of what transpired,” said Partida, who was elected to the board in 2010. “I want to know all of what happened and who knew what and when they knew it. Now is the time for accountability. I have asked for independent counsel to come in and help the board find out what happened and to lead us forward and make sure this never happens again.”
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, but no police report was ever filed.
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 Loma Vista Principal Laurie 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.
Per California Penal Code 1165, mandated reporters (professionals who witness child abuse) are required to contact either CPS (Child Protective Services) or law enforcement officials. According to BUSD Superintendent Merrill Grant, James said she called CPS to report the incident, and was told by them that the incident did not fall under their jurisdiction. Brentwood Police Sgt. Timothy Herbert said this week that his department was not notified of the incident until contacted by Carlin on June 1.
Grant said in an interview with the Press this week that he did not believe any laws were broken pertaining to mandated reporting. He declined to speculate on whether any disciplinary action against the principal should be taken.
“That is not for me to decide,” said Grant. “It’s a tough question to answer at this point, and until we sort out the facts, I just don’t want to get into that about Mrs. James.”
As to whether – in hindsight – he would have handled the situation differently and placed Holder on administrative leave or assigned her to desk job instead of putting her back in the classroom, Grant wouldn’t say.
“I think the general statements I have made in the past week have implied that, but I don’t want to speculate on what I would have done differently right now … I won’t go on record with my comfort level (of Holder going back into the classroom), but I think that will be presented by the attorney as things become more clear.”
The BUSD board is scheduled to hold a closed session meeting on Wednesday at 4 p.m. to be followed by its regular meeting at 7 p.m. The district’s current legal counsel is on the agenda to discuss the law as it pertains to teacher dismissal and disciplinary policy.
“This incident has caused great distress for all of us who work with such care and compassion every day with the students in this district,” said Grant. “And we are going to take every step possible to ensure this kind of thing never happens again.”
Jana Aubert, who has two students at Loma Vista, was outraged by what she learned about the event. “As a parent of a second- and fifth-grader at Loma Vista, I was very shocked and dismayed to hear about the events that occurred at my daughter’s elementary school,” said Aubert. “If I can’t trust my school’s administration in these big matters, what does it say about their credibility in dealing with the everyday issues?”
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