A Turlock mother has pulled her son out of his Medeiros Elementary preschool classroom for fear of his safety after a teacher dragged him across the classroom by his leg, resulting in abrasions to his abdomen.
On Nov. 9, Ashley Zuniga’s 4-year-old son returned home from school complaining of pain on his side. Zuniga found that her son had a scrape across the top layer of skin similar to road rash. The wound on the side of her son’s stomach was about three inches long and an inch and a half wide, said Zuniga, and was red and swollen.
Zuniga’s son had been injured at school before, she added, but after past incidents, like minor cuts, his teacher had always sent home an “ouch report,” detailing the incident and how it happened. Her son told her that his teacher had given him the injury after dragging him across the floor by his leg.
Confused and unsure if her son’s story was accurate, Zuniga asked her husband if the teacher had said anything to him about the injury when he picked their son up from school. When her husband said he had not been informed about the wound, Zuniga called her son’s teacher.
“She told me, ‘it’s a rugburn,’” said Zuniga. “She told me that she was separating my son from another student during an altercation but had used ‘bad judgement.’”
In an attempt to separate the two students, the teacher told Zuniga that she had dragged the 4-year-old across the classroom floor by his leg, giving him a rugburn that required bandages and kept the child from bathing for a week due to pain.
“I didn’t want it to be true. I was hoping that I would call and she would tell me a completely different scenario,” said Zuniga. “I put him in that classroom because I thought he would thrive and be successful, but it’s turned out to be the complete opposite.”
Zuniga said she immediately reported the incident, and the teacher was placed on leave during separate investigations conducted by the Turlock Unified School District and the Community Care Licensing Division of the Department of Social Services. During that time, Zuniga decided to pull her son out of the classroom and into a different class when she learned that the teacher would be returning to work following the conclusion of the investigation.
“It was heartbreaking because you’re supposed to trust that your child is safe at school, and you feel guilty that you’ve sent your child to school and don’t know what’s happening there,” said Zuniga. “What broke my heart is that my 4-year-old had to be brave enough to tell me what his teacher did to him. She left it up to him.”
According to the official report of the State’s investigation, it was determined that a staff member at the school site had in fact inappropriately handled Zuniga’s son. The injury was classified as a Type A Deficiency and is a “zero tolerance violation to the child’s rights.” The regulation violation carries an immediate civil penalty of $500, but the fee was waived for TUSD.
TUSD facilitated a staff meeting on Dec. 21 in response to the violation, which addressed students’ personal rights and the proper handling of children. The state advised TUSD Early Education Programs Coordinator Judy Huerta to make the report of the investigation accessible to the public and to provide copies to parents of children in the care of and newly enrolled at the school during the next year. In addition, notice of the investigation was required to be posted for 30 days after the State’s Dec. 7 visit to the school.
The school district stated that the deficiency citation has since been cleared, and acknowledged the incident as well as findings that the allegations were substantiated.
“The Turlock Unified School District works tirelessly to maintain student safety and security as a top priority,” said the district in a statement. “Please know that TUSD took this matter very seriously and acted immediately to address the concern. We have already put a plan in place to ensure staff members receive the necessary training, support, and guidance to prevent a similar situation from reoccurring while allowing all stakeholders to learn from this incident and move forward.”
Zuniga feels that the meeting held with staff on Dec. 21 and any upcoming training for teachers as a result of her son’s injury is not an adequate response. The teacher in question returned to work on Jan. 12, she said, but she believes she should be fired.
“It makes you doubt the school district, their ethics and their policies. She’s being sent back to teach students without any ramifications – I work with children and if I ever did something like that, I would expect to lose my job. Where is the justice for my son and the other students in that class?” said Zuniga. “Who’s really being punished? My son had to be taken out of his class and away from an environment he was already comfortable in five months into the school year, where he had friends. He had to start over, but not her.”