California: Former principal charged with pushing special needs students to the ground, authorities say

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Earlier this week, the Fresno Unified School District released surveillance video of now-former Wolters Elementary School principal Brian Vollhardt pushing an unidentified 11-year-old student to the ground in June while he and other staff members were working with the “crazy student.” The video does not contain sound and the student’s face has been blurred.

In the video, the student gestures at Vollhardt and appears to point the finger at him twice before the former principal pushes the student. It is not clear what led to the incident.

“Instead of de-escalating the situation, which is what we expect from an educator in our system, the former principal chose to aggressively push the student down instead,” Superintendent Bob Nelson said during a news conference Wednesday.

The child’s guardian, Ann Frank, told CNN affiliate KFSN that the case was pending at police headquarters until she complained about the lack of charges two weeks ago. It took the school district three months to show her the video, she added.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by KFSN, Vollhardt said the student was “yelling and getting in the head/suspect’s face” while making threats. Citing the ongoing investigation, police and the school district declined to comment on Vollhardt’s comments in the statement.

“You can’t put power over these kids like that,” Frank said in an interview with KFSN. “My son is autistic. Any parent who sees this video, they know how I feel right now. My son was forcefully pushed by this principal who was supposed to protect him.”

Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderama acknowledged during the press conference that the system did not act quickly in this case.

“I found out about the incident two days ago. Around 3pm on Tuesday.” Balderrama said Thursday. “We have since gone back and looked at our process for how these types of cases are handled. As police chief, I want to be notified every time there is such a serious assault at one of our schools. That did not happen in this case. “

Both Nelson and Balderrama said the principal’s actions were inexcusable, with Nelson adding what the video shows is “abhorrent.”

Vollhardt was placed on administrative leave June 8 after the district became aware of the incident, Nelson said. The district also notified Fresno Police and Child Protective Services, he added.

Vollhardt resigned before the district completed its investigation, Nelson said.

Vollhardt was later hired as a vice principal in the Golden Plains Unified School District. Martin Marcias, the school district’s superintendent, told CNN they were made aware of the June 7 incident on Wednesday and have since placed Vollhardt on administrative leave.

Roger Wilson, Vollhardt’s attorney, said he has asked the district attorney’s office for more information and cannot make an informed statement about the incident until he receives discovery from the district attorney’s office. In the meantime, he says he has scheduled a court date for Vollhardt, Wilson said.

According to Nelson, the student is physically OK and has received emotional support.

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