Rocklin teacher gets probation in abuse case, works in education under new name

A former Rocklin special-needs teacher has been sentenced to three years of informal probation tied to allegations of battery of two children in her classroom.

Sherry Ann McDaniel taught at Breen Elementary School until she was placed on administrative leave May 5, 2014, while police investigated the case. She was sentenced Wednesday in Placer Superior Court in Auburn. She pleaded no contest to the two misdemeanors in early October.

The court also ordered her to continue with counseling and have no contact with victims in the case, according to Placer County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Wilson. She was fined $1,262.

A half-dozen civil suits were filed against the Rocklin Unified School District, McDaniel and other individuals in 2015. The criminal and civil cases stemmed from allegations that McDaniel had taped a child’s hands to a desk, forcefully picked up and locked a child out of the classroom, and pushed her body into a student.

The Rocklin district would not comment on the criminal proceeding. “We do empathize with the families affected,” said district spokeswoman Diana Capra. “Our students and their families’ safety is and will always be of paramount concern to us.”

Capra added that the district also could not talk about personnel issues. But, she said of McDaniel, “I can tell you she is not a current employee and will not be an employee of the Rocklin Unified School District in the future.”

As of October 2015, the district’s insurers had paid out $5.3 million to five of six families that filed suit in April 2015. The sixth civil suit remains in progress.

On Tuesday, McDaniel’s criminal defense attorney, Joseph Patrick Hougnon, said the case against his client was overblown. He noted that a dozen misdemeanor counts of battery and child abuse or endangerment were dropped and that she received no jail time.

Hougnon said he believes the district acted too quickly. “Why did the school district so quickly and cowardly pay out all this money before sworn testimony was taken from the complaining witnesses?” he asked. He said the case “is not what everyone thought.”

“My understanding is that the testimony that has been given so far does not support any of the serious allegations out there,” he said. He said also that “a potentially dangerous environment” had developed in the classroom and that some of McDaniel’s actions were “extraordinary steps to protect the students.”

Hougnon confirmed that when his client applied to renew her five-year teaching credential, she decided to begin using her birth name, Dolores, and Sherry became a middle initial. She also hoped to avoid continued “demonization and hysteria.” She works in education but not as a teacher, he said.

“She’s trying to move on with her life,” Hougnon said. “This is a small attempt to get a little bit of privacy.”

Family members of affected children said their experiences were painful. Jennifer and Patrick Hugunin said last year that their son had been “traumatized by his teacher’s abuse.” Their attorneys noted that special-needs students are particularly vulnerable because they face difficulty communicating that they are suffering abuse.

Court documents said that classroom aides reported McDaniel’s alleged abuse to administrators, but the principal and district supervisors took no action to protect children and did not notify parents or law enforcement authorities.

Wilson said the District Attorney’s Office is “sympathetic to the parents of the victims in the case and fully understand their feelings.”

“It is difficult to see your child mistreated in the ways that Ms. McDaniel was mistreating these children,” Wilson said. “We can certainly understand why the parents would like to see a greater punishment for Ms. McDaniel. We truly share and respect their feelings.

“Our office, however, must prosecute cases under the law while considering all admissible and relevant facts. Given the facts of the case and the applicable law, we believe the disposition of the case was appropriate and avoided having the juvenile victims in the case testify in court.”