The parents of three autistic kindergarteners have sued the Antioch Unified School District, a former teacher and four administrators over alleged abuse of the children by the teacher. The civil rights lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Wednesday. It alleges that teacher Theresa Allen-Caulboy struck, pinched and bruised the three autistic children in her special-education class at Mno Grant Elementary School last fall and in January. Among other allegations, the lawsuit claims Allen-Caulboy struck a 5-year-old boy identified as M.E., “repeatedly held him on the ground with her knee and forcibly gouged his face” last fall. It alleges that on Jan. 17, she pinched another 5-year-old boy, A.S., on his nipple in an attempt to make him obey her.
Both boys began showing anxiety and significant behavior changes after entering Allen-Caulboy’s class that fall, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit alleges the teacher also used demeaning language to her students and sometimes called A.S. a “retard.” Allen-Caulboy is additionally alleged to have caused unspecified physical injuries to a 5-year-old girl, L.C., in December and “multiple bruises” in January. The child told her mother that the teacher “had squeezed her elbow, which left a visible bruise, and pushed her down,” the lawsuit says. The alleged elbow-bruising incident occurred on Jan. 18, according to internal school district e-mails obtained by the families’ lawyers. On that same day, the district informed Allen-Caulboy in a letter that she was being placed on administrative leave during an investigation of allegations of “inappropriate and abusive interactions with and treatment of” her students.
Allen-Caulboy resigned on Feb. 13, according to another school district letter. The letters were obtained by the families’ attorneys. Antioch police Sgt. Tony Morefield said police have conducted a criminal investigation of the allegations and have now referred the case to the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office for possible filing of charges. “We’ve looked at every aspect,” said Morefield, but he declined to say which suspect or incidents were referred to the district attorney. In addition to the district and Allen-Caulboy, the defendants in the suit are school Principal Michael Green, district Special Education Director David Wax, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Keith Rogenski and Special Education Coordinator Kai Montgomery. The lawsuit accuses the administrators of failing to report the suspected child abuse to authorities, as required by law, and trying to prevent parents from reporting their suspicions to police. “It’s their job to report,” said Peter Alfert, an attorney for the families. “It’s disgraceful that school district officers do not report to authorities when there are allegations of abuse of children by teachers. “We believe the case is going to show that the principal and high-ranking officials knew about these allegations for a long period of time and took no action to protect these children,” Alfert claimed.
The California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act requires teachers, aides and administrators to report to authorities when they “reasonably suspect” child abuse may have occurred. District Superintendent Donald Gill said he could not comment on the case except to confirm that “Ms. Allen-Caulboy is no longer a district employee and has not been in a district classroom since January 18, 2013.” Gill said the district is on spring break this week and that officials have not yet been served with the lawsuit. The suit is based on claims of violation of the constitutional right to be free of excessive force and two federal laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. It seeks financial compensation for the children’s alleged physical and psychological injuries as well as punitive damages, in amounts that would be determined at a jury trial. The case was assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco. Alfert said he expects that an initial case management conference will be held in court in about three months.
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