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Lauri James, principal of Loma Vista Elementary School sits in the back of a overcrowded room fanning herself while she listens to parents complaints during a Brentwood Union School District school board meeting held in Brentwood, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. Angry parents attended the meeting voicing their displeasure of the handling by school board members of Loma Vista Elementary School special education teacher Dina Holder who grabbed a 5-year-old special-needs student out of his chair in May 2010 and kicked him on the ground when he would not join the circle of her students. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

BRENTWOOD -- The principal and a teacher at Loma Vista Elementary have been placed on administrative leave while the Brentwood school district investigates the handling of a parent's claim regarding alleged abuse, which the police have since deemed unfounded.

The action stems from a May 6 physical interaction between a special education teacher and a special needs preschooler on a Loma Vista Elementary School playground, which a parent observed and reported to the school that same day. The school investigated, but police were not notified until May 16, according to district officials.

While the Brentwood school district further investigates the handling of this incident, the teacher and Loma Vista Principal Lauri James have both been placed on leave.

According to the Brentwood police, which concluded their investigation Monday, there were allegations the teacher kicked the student down the slide.

"The teacher actually followed the student down the slide and the student turned around to bite the teacher on the leg and she moved to avoid being bitten," Brentwood police Lt. Doug Silva said. "They later went down the slide laughing together."

Before entering the slide, though, the student had thrown tan bark at the teacher, he said.

"She placed her hands on his shoulders to place him in time out," Silva said. "That was the school psychologist approved technique to deal with that behavior."


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A Brentwood police officer interviewed witnesses of the playground incident on May 17 after James contacted them on May 16, according to district officials. James was asked to notify local law enforcement by Brentwood schools Interim Superintendent Doug Adams after district officials were informed of the incident by another parent on May 16.

"I made the decision after that to send a team of different district members to assist with the investigation. After hearing those initial interviews, I made the decision to place the teacher and administrator (James) on leave," Adams said. "I want to be able to thoroughly investigate the matter."

According to Adams, James had immediately conducted an internal investigation after learning of the May 6 incident that same day and the teacher called the student's parent that night to explain what happened.

James was the Loma Vista principal when former special education teacher Dina Holder threw a 5-year-old student with autism onto a classroom floor and kicked him in 2010. Again, James investigated the incident internally but did not inform the authorities until days later than state law required. Holder was later convicted and the district finalized a $950,000 settlement with the victim's family earlier this year.

All school employees who work with children are "mandated reporters" who must report any suspicions of abuse to police or Child Protective Services immediately by phone, and then through a written report within 36 hours.

In a letter to Loma Vista parents on Monday, Adams wrote that James failed to inform any district officials or law enforcement of the incident.

"Administrative leave is not an indication of wrongdoing. This incident may not have been an instance of abuse," Adams said. "We need to examine the facts of what occurred and whether our staff followed proper procedures in responding to this incident. I am very concerned about the lapse in time from May 6 and May 16."

Brentwood school board President Carlos Sanabria said that contacting the police provides an objective look at the situation.

"Everyone is on heightened awareness," Sanabria said. "There is the new training and everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing now. A lot more stuff is being reported to the police and they are doing more investigations now."

Sanabria said that when new BUSD Superintendent Dana Eaton starts July 1, the district will be further investigating these matters.

"We will be looking at everything for some root causes and whatever other changes we want to make to improve communication," Sanabria said.

Adams said that the district's current investigation should provide a fair and honest assessment of what happened.

"As a principal, the first thing you should do is conduct an internal investigation. If there is any doubt, you should call the district office," he said. "An element of my investigation is to determine why that call wasn't made."

Reach Paula King at 925-779-7174 or pking@bayareanewsgroup.com.