Education

Two families reach settlement with Rocklin district over alleged abuse

Two of six families who filed a federal lawsuit against the Rocklin Unified School District regarding alleged abuse of students by a special education teacher have reached a settlement totaling $2.5 million.

The settlements with parents Jennifer and Patrick Hugunin and Todd and Laura Vrooman were approved Thursday in Sacramento by U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. The families will receive $1.25 million each.

The civil suit was filed in April, two weeks after the Placer County District Attorney’s Office filed 14 misdemeanor counts against teacher Sherry Ann McDaniel. The criminal and civil cases stem from alleged actions by McDaniel that include taping a child’s hands to the desk, forcefully picking up and locking a child out of the classroom, and pushing her body into that of a student.

In addition to McDaniel and the Rocklin Unified School District, the suit named as defendants Charles Thibideau, principal of Breen Elementary School; Janna Cambra, director of special education during the 2013-14 school year; Betty Jo Wessinger, director of special education from 2012 to 2013; current district Superintendent Roger Stock; former district Superintendent Kevin Brown; and Todd Cutler, a deputy superintendent during the period in which the alleged abuse occurred.

We hope that the district learns from this case and works to ensure that every child entrusted to their schools is educated in a safe and supportive environment.

Parents Patrick and Jennifer Hugunin in statement issued following settlement

Peter Alfert, an attorney representing the Hugunins and two other families in the lawsuit, said the Hugunins and Vroomans were satisfied with the offer. He said the same offer has not been made to the other four families.

“Two families are getting a measure of justice,” Alfert said, “but there are four families that have not gotten any justice.”

He said negotiations with the district continue on behalf of the other families. If further settlements can’t be reached, Alfert said, attorneys will try the case and let a jury resolve the matter.

The Hugunins, in a written statement issued through their attorney, said, “Although the settlement brings an end to the legal process, we continue to search for an appropriate educational placement for our son who has been traumatized by his teacher’s abuse. We hope that the district learns from this case and works to ensure that every child entrusted to their schools is educated in a safe and supportive environment.”

The lawsuit maintains that classroom aides reported the 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.

The parents first learned of the alleged abuse when they were contacted by police. The Rocklin Police Department in late April 2014 began investigating whether there was willful cruelty after receiving a tip from an anonymous caller. The complaint filed by the District Attorney’s Office in April of this year charged McDaniel with 10 misdemeanor counts of cruelty to a child by abuse, neglect or endangering health, and four misdemeanor counts of simple battery. The case is pending in Placer County Superior Court. Online records indicate the next court date is Oct. 29, for a status conference.

District Superintendent Stock said McDaniel has been on leave from the Rocklin Unified School District since May 2014.

Because the settlements were handled by the district’s insurance carrier, he said, the district’s board of trustees took no action on them. No district funds were used in the settlements, he said, explaining that payments will be made by the district’s insurance carrier.

Stock said the Rocklin district is part of an insurance pool made up of most of the school districts in Placer and Nevada counties, as well as a few districts from other counties.

As for potential settlements with the other four families, Stock said the district does not comment on current or pending litigation.

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