BRENTWOOD -- The families of eight special needs students sued former teacher Dina Holder, her principal and other Brentwood school district employees Wednesday, claiming they failed to report abuse suspicions appropriately and alert the community that Holder was a convicted child abuser.
All eight students, who were aged 3 to 6 at the time, had very limited communication skills -- six registered on the autism spectrum, and two had Down syndrome. They all claimed that Holder subjected them to physical and mental abuse and to neglect. The federal lawsuit alleges former Loma Vista Elementary School teacher Holder, former Loma Vista Principal Lauri James, former Superintendent Merrill Grant, Assistant Superintendent Margaret Kruse, director of special education Margo Olson and her predecessor, Jean Anthony, violated the students' civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It was only after this newspaper reported in January that Holder had been convicted of child abuse for kicking an autistic child while he lay on the floor in 2010 and the Brentwood Unified School District transferred Holder to another classroom, that the parents realized Holder's history, the lawsuit claims. Already the district has settled with the family of the kicked autistic child for $950,000.
District documents show James conducted an internal investigation into the incident, but it was parents who reported it to police. School employees are required by state law to report child abuse suspicions to police or Child Protective Services. James, other teachers, the director of special education, the school psychologist, speech therapists, speech pathology aides, instructional aides and other employees failed to report abuse suspicions, the lawsuit alleges, that surfaced as early as 2008, when a parent reported her child was slapped by Holder.
The revelations led to an uprising by parents of special needs students and the eventual ouster of Grant.
Attorney Peter Alfert, who filed Wednesday's lawsuit on behalf of the eight students and their parents, said the school district allowed Holder to continue teaching after her plea of no contest to a cruelty-to-a-child charge and did not inform parents of her legal issues.
"They were telling parents who asked why she was the new teacher that she was a good, accredited teacher that was good for their children," Alfert said. "When in fact they knew she was none of those.
"They allowed her to teach knowing one of the conditions of her plea was she couldn't be alone with a child," Alfert said, adding that it was a disqualifying act for a teaching credential, but the district never reported it to the state.
New Brentwood Superintendent Dana Eaton said Wednesday he had not seen the lawsuit and was unable to comment.
The plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages. Many claimed the students sometimes came home from school with mysterious bruises and scrapes and started acting out in different ways and regressing in their educations.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.