Three more families settle with Rocklin school district over suspected abuse by special education teacher

The Rocklin Unified School District reached settlements this week with three additional families in a federal lawsuit regarding suspected abuse of students by a special education teacher.

The settlements approved Wednesday and Thursday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento totaled $2.8 million, according to court records available online. Settlements totaling $2.5 million with two other families were announced in September, bringing the total in the case thus far to $5.3 million.

Six families filed suit in April, two weeks after the Placer County District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against teacher Sherry Ann McDaniel. The criminal and civil cases stem from allegations against 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 lawsuit 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 abuse is claimed to have occurred.

The lawsuit maintains that classroom aides reported abuse to administrators, but that 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 suspected 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 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 Superior Court with the next court date, for a status conference, set for Thursday.

District Superintendent Stock said McDaniel has been on leave from the district since May 2014.

A settlement of $1.7 million was approved Wednesday for parents Keith Caldwell and Nicole Hill. Settlements were approved Thursday for parents Richard and Terrill Rogers for $850,000, and Michelle Mancour for $250,000.

Settlements were announced in September with parents Jennifer and Patrick Hugunin and Todd and Laura Vrooman, with the families receiving $1.25 million each.

As of Friday, no settlement had been announced with the parents of the sixth student, Trisha and Carl Pitts.

Because the settlements are handled by the district’s insurance carrier, district trustees take no action on them, district officials have said. The payments will be made by the district’s insurance carrier.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy