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Criminal charges filed against Rocklin teacher accused of abusing special-needs students

A Rocklin Unified School District teacher accused last year of subjecting special-needs students to physical and psychological abuse faces criminal charges.

The Placer County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday filed a complaint charging Sherry Ann McDaniel with seven misdemeanor counts of cruelty to a child by abuse, neglect or endangering health, and four misdemeanor counts of simple battery. The charges stem from alleged actions involving students ages 9 to 14 that occurred during the 2013-14 school year. They include taping a child’s hands to a desk, forcefully picking up and locking a child out of the classroom, and pushing her body into that of a student.

The Rocklin Police Department in late April 2014 began investigating whether there was willful cruelty after receiving a tip from an anonymous caller. With the school district’s cooperation, investigators interviewed several teacher’s aides and contacted parents. Investigators also listened to some of the students with the help of a child forensic interviewer, according to the police report. The Police Department turned over the results of its investigation to the District Attorney’s Office in June.

Rocklin Unified School District officials said the district was notified by the Police Department of the alleged misconduct May 5 and McDaniel was placed on administrative leave the next day. They said the district cooperated with the law enforcement investigation and initiated disciplinary proceedings against McDaniel, placing her on unpaid leave Nov. 20.

“The California Education Code requires a detailed and time-consuming process before a teacher may be dismissed for misconduct,” district officials said in a written statement Friday. “The district is currently working through the required disciplinary process and a dismissal hearing is scheduled for the end of May before the state Office of Administrative Hearings.”

Efforts to reach McDaniel for comment were unsuccessful.

Attorneys for the parents of three children allegedly subjected to abuse by McDaniel said Friday that they plan to file a federal civil rights lawsuit in Sacramento within the next 10 days.

Attorneys Peter Alfert and Todd Boley represent parents Jennifer and Patrick Hugunin, Nicole Hill and Keith Caldwell, and Trish and Carl Pitts.

Alfert said it is a coincidence the criminal charges and civil suit are being filed about the same time. Alfert said he and Boley had been in discussions with the school district in hopes of reaching an out-of-court settlement. The civil suit, he said, will name as defendants McDaniel, the school principal and other administrators who allegedly knew of the accusations against McDaniel but took no action. He said the district also will be named as a defendant.

“We are disappointed that the DA didn’t file charges against other employees of the district who violated California’s mandatory reporting law,” Alfert said.

The parents first learned of the alleged abuse of their children when they were contacted by police.

“This was directed at the most vulnerable victims you can imagine,” Boley said.

Special-needs students often are children who have difficulty communicating, and it is not unusual for parents to be unaware of abuse in such cases, he said.

“It is gratifying that some action is being taken,” Boley said.

The district attorney’s decision to file charges, he said, serves to elevate the issue, making parents and others aware that such problems exist.

Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.

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