Theresa Allen-Caulboy
Theresa Allen-Caulboy (Peter Alfert)

ANTIOCH -- Larry Evans still harbors guilt over keeping his autistic son in an Antioch special education kindergarten class where prosecutors say he was abused.

Evans keeps repeating the same scene in his mind of taking his son Malik, who is nonverbal, to Mno Grant Elementary School one morning last year and his son, unable to speak, shutting the car door repeatedly and refusing to get out and go to class.

"I feel like I failed miserably at recognizing some signs my son was giving," a teary-eyed Evans said Thursday morning at his lawyer's office.

On Wednesday night, the Antioch Unified school board voted to pay the families of eight special-education kindergarten students $8 million to settle a federal lawsuit over a teacher/child abuse case and the failure of administrators to properly report their suspicions of abuse.

The case involves former Mno Grant special-education teacher Theresa Allen-Caulboy, who has pleaded not guilty in criminal court to abusing six students. Allen-Caulboy resigned from her teaching post in February, a month after parents reported her to police and district officials placed her on leave. She is free on $200,000 bail.

The April lawsuit asserts that Allen-Caulboy slapped, pinched and verbally abused her students, and that administrators failed to report their suspicions to the proper authorities in a timely way, as required by law.

"There's absolutely no excuse for this type of treatment of children ... and these actions are totally unacceptable to everything the Antioch Unified School District stands for and every employee," Superintendent Donald Gill said at Wednesday's school board meeting. "We're doing everything, and have done everything, in our power to make sure nothing like this happens again."

The Evanses finally pulled their son from the school, and they only learned from an Antioch police detective in February that a teacher's aide reported that Allen-Caulboy had backhanded Malik and otherwise abused him.

"My son now thinks aggression and violence is the way to react to everything," Megan Evans said Thursday.

Other parents also had complained about the teacher, and internal documents show that administrators failed in their mandated reporting duties.

In a December 2012 email to administrators, David Wax -- the district's director of special education -- described how he had a "productive" phone call with a mother upset that the district was not taking her concerns about Allen-Caulboy seriously. It mentioned that she had intended to tell police and a newspaper about her concerns, but that "we were able to de-escalate her" from doing so.

Attorney Peter Alfert, who represented the Evans family and other plaintiffs, said the administrators' actions broke the law.

"It was worse than just not reporting. They actively tried to conceal events," he said.

"It's a matter of training. If you have training and a culture in a school where it's OK to tell, you can stop this," Alfert said. "You can stop this from happening right away if you do your job."

Teresa Green and her 7-year-old son, who is autistic with limited communication skills, also are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. She said her son avoids the word "school" now, and has also lost trust in her.

"To not have a child treated like a human being because he has a disability is really disappointing," she said.

Staff writer Paul Burgarino contributed to this report. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.