BRENTWOOD -- School district administrators and board members Tuesday delivered what at times became an emotional apology to parents for the controversial handling of a special-education teacher's discipline.
"I see myself as an advocate for your children and in this case I did not," said Margo Olson, director of special education for Brentwood Union School District, choking back tears.
The district -- which has been lambasted by angry parents of special needs students for the transfer of former Loma Vista Elementary teacher Dina Holder after she kicked a 5-year-old autistic child in 2010 -- also laid out plans to overhaul its mandated reporting training and teacher complaint documentation to better address problem teachers.
The emotionally charged special meeting was less chaotic than the last board meeting where angry parents hurled cat calls at presenters and screamed at district officials. On Tuesday, a group of parents announced the formation of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, created to advocate for special needs families and work with the district to prevent such an incident in the future.
Tensions grew after the Times reported earlier this month how the district decided to transfer Holder to another teaching job at a different school rather than fire her after she admitted to the kicking incident. The district agreed to settle with the boy's family for $950,000 and remove Holder from the classroom, two years later.
Halfway through Tuesday's meeting, Margaret Kruse, the assistant superintendent of human resources who determined there was not enough evidence to fire Holder after the incident, stood and apologized.
"Your comments were like daggers in my heart," she told the audience. "We'll never view the same type of decision through the same lens."
She said their decision was "technical" and "legally recommended" and vowed to change.
She said there was a "huge gap" in the district's mandated reporting.
"People did report, but there were delays in reporting and emotions got in the way," she said.
Kruse said every employee, including new hires and eventually substitute teachers, will receive retraining through an online module once she creates a process to ensure that happens.
Kruse said the district will create a school safety plan that will buttress state law on mandated reporting by March 1. Complaints to Child Protective Services or police will be logged, including their responses, she proposed.
One parent suggested that the policy should require those reporting incidents to call police and CPS to avoid the chance that the improper agency gets contacted.
The district will also provide professional development to help administrators properly document and investigate complaints that might not reach mandated reporting thresholds. Training would include recognizing the difference between redirection, physical contact often needed with some special needs students and abuse.
The meeting opened with Superintendent Merrill Grant and board President Carlos Sanabria apologizing and telling parents they hope to work together. Grant later pledged to talk personally with those with issues and meet with the advisory committee.
It was too little, too late for parent Todd Guilliams, who spoke before the board and told them they needed to "divorce Merrill Grant from a leadership job in Brentwood."
Another father addressed trustees, before storming out of the meeting: "I just can't get my head around what took place....I question whether any of you are qualified to be on the board."
Stephanie Stewart handed out to the trustees photos of her son Dylan, who has Down syndrome and spent two years in Holder's class.
"We're forgetting who you guys are supposed to be supporting," she said. "I challenge you to take (the photo) out at every board meeting so you can remember who you are here for."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.