A special education teacher accused of abusing severely disabled students held on to her job after her school district and teachers union failed to report her behavior to the police.
Sherry McDaniel, a former special education teacher at Breen Elementary School in northern California, is under investigation on charges of child abuse after students and former teachers' aides reported her to the Rocklin Police Department.
The victims and teachers say McDaniel manhandled autistic pupils, kicked exercise balls out from under one student, and verbally and psychologically abused others over the course of several years.
"We were talking about children that can’t speak for themselves in this particular case," says a police report prepared by police investigator Neil A. Costa and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "Because [McDaniel] denies everything, they just tell her here is a piece of paper for your file now go back to your class [sic]."
Aides warned Breen Elementary’s principal, the district’s special education division, and the local teachers union about McDaniel but no action was taken against the teacher, according to the police report. The allegations of abuse came to light after police received an anonymous tip about McDaniel in April, according to the Roseville & Granite Bay Press Tribune.
One aide told investigators that the local chapter of the National Education Association refused to speak with whistleblowers who attempted to rein in McDaniel.
"She has reported [McDaniel] to her union 5 times, the last time being in January of this year," the report says. The witness "said the union is now ignoring her and won’t talk to her anymore."
The aide told the police that McDaniel benefitted from the tenure system, saying, "If you are tenured, and still breathing, you can’t loose [sic] your job."
One of McDaniel's colleagues said she was frequently absent from the classroom and did not put in a full week’s work until the sixth week of school, according to the police report. Another called her a "lousy teacher" but said the school district and union’s focus was on "female drama" such as McDaniel’s relationship with her aides.
Parents of two of the alleged victims are suing the school district with the help of Hinton, Alfert, and Kahn. Attorney Peter Alfert said that school officials spent too much time focusing on protecting their jobs rather than the students entrusted to their care.
"School employees tend to protect themselves at the expense of the children in these types of cases. There’s reluctance to come forward because you don’t want to tell on your coworker," he said.
The Rocklin School District said in a release that it is cooperating with the police investigation.
"The Rocklin Unified School District is committed to the safety of all students. However, the district has a legal obligation to protect the privacy and due process rights of all parties involved and cannot comment on specifics," the district said in a release. "The teacher was placed on administrative leave last spring when the district was made aware of these allegations. The district will take appropriate disciplinary actions as necessary."
The school district and union met with McDaniel to address numerous complaints against her, the report says.
There is no mention in the report of disciplinary action being taken against McDaniel, however.
California state law requires any child caretaker who is aware of or suspects abuse to report alleged abusers to authorities. Alfert’s clients did not find out that their children were allegedly victimized until police followed up on the anonymous tip.
"Both sets of parents feel totally betrayed by what happened to their children. They were in shock," Alfert told the Washington Free Beacon. "If somebody else has known of the abuse and they’re a mandatory reporter, they’re morally and legally responsible."
Alfert, who has successfully sued other school districts for failing to properly address and report child abuse, said that McDaniel’s case is especially egregious, given the set of victims.
"Special needs children are the most vulnerable people for abuse," he said. "These children do not recognize what abuse is themselves and they have communication problem—some are non-verbal and can’t tell anyone what’s happened to them."
Calls to two numbers associated with McDaniel went unreturned, while a third had been disconnected.