Education

Families sue Roseville school district alleging abuse of special education students

Two families have filed suit alleging that a Roseville City School District special education teacher abused their children, ages 3 and 4, and that the district failed to tell parents about the abuse despite firing the teacher and calling police.

The suit in U.S. District Court in Sacramento said the school district terminated teacher Theresa Van Wagner in November 2013, two months after classroom staff began complaining to administrators at Kaseberg Elementary School that she was abusing students in a preschool special education class.

In fall 2013, alleged abuse included hair pulling, ear pulling, screaming, pushing into furniture, slapping, pinching, hitting and making racist comments, according to the lawsuit. Both of the children, now 4 and 6, have been diagnosed with autism and have limited communication skills.

Last June, the Placer County District Attorney’s Office filed three counts of misdemeanor child abuse against Van Wagner. That case is ongoing in Placer Superior Court.

The parents, Duane and Kimberly Beecham and Oliver and Jennifer Vergara, all of Roseville, did not get their first clue of the alleged mistreatment until months later when the Placer County District Attorney’s Office contacted both families by mail, one of their attorneys said Tuesday.

“They didn’t learn any of the details of the abuse until we obtained a copy of the police report,” said Alameda-based attorney Todd Boley. He called the delay in that knowledge devastating for the parents, who persuaded their reluctant children to attend school.

In early December 2013, the district’s assistant superintendent, Jerrold Jorgensen, called Roseville police about the special education teacher and, according to the suit, authorities urged him to notify parents of the children about the allegations of abuse as soon as possible.

The suit filed Tuesday named as defendants the district, Jorgensen, Preschool Program Coordinator George Rooks and Van Wagner.

The former Kaseberg teacher did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment. Roseville City School District Superintendent Derk Garcia said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. He confirmed that the teacher has not worked at the district since November 2013.

“We take allegations of mistreatment extremely seriously and will continue to ensure student safety is our No. 1 concern,” Garcia said later in a prepared statement.

Co-counsel Peter Alfert of Walnut Creek called the families’ plight “just another example of a district and its employees failing in their responsibility as mandatory reporters to notify police when they have a reasonable suspicion of child abuse.”

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