(MCT) — ANTIOCH, Calif. — The family of an 8-year-old California boy filed a claim Tuesday alleging the boy’s third-grade teacher duct-taped his mouth shut and that another teacher punished him by placing a chair over him and sitting on it in separate incidents earlier this school year.
Another student’s hands were duct-taped by Antioch Charter Academy II teacher Michelle Mankewich in November, the claim alleges.
All four Antioch Unified School District employees who witnessed or learned of the November incidents failed to perform their mandated reporting duties and notify authorities about them, the claim alleges. The charter school principal — the mother of one of the teachers alleged to have abused the boy — conducted an internal investigation that found no wrongdoing.
“These are highly inappropriate forms of restraint on a student. It’s abusive. I’d call it child abuse,” said Larry Cook, the Walnut Creek attorney who filed the claim. “There’s got to be other ways to control kids in a classroom.”
The Antioch boy, through his mother, Luvy Torres, filed the claim against the Antioch district; the charter school; The Learner-Centered School Inc. (the nonprofit that operates the school); Mankewich, teacher Marianne Dubitsky, teacher Julie Fajeau and Principal Jeannie Dubitsky, alleging they violated his constitutional rights, assaulted him and discriminated against him, among other charges. The boy’s family seeks more than $10,000 in damages.
Calls and emails to the school, nonprofit and individual employees were not returned Tuesday. The school is on break this week.
Antioch Unified Superintendent Donald Gill, who learned of the claim Tuesday, said the charter academy is independent of his district, which nevertheless has general oversight responsibilities to ensure academic and fiscal accountability. The school has its own separate board of directors that manages funding, staffing and school policies.
The boy, diagnosed with a learning disability related to auditory processing, received special-education resources at the school. But the alleged abuse took place in a mainstream combined classroom of first-, second- and third graders where Mankewich, Marianne Dubitsky and Fajeau shared teaching duties.
The claim says that on the morning of Nov. 27, Torres was asked by the mother of another student whether she knew her son and other students had been duct-taped in class by Mankewich the previous day. Torres confirmed with her son that day that Mankewich took a roll of duct tape from her desk drawer and placed strips of it over his mouth, as well as on the hands of another student in class, according to the claim.
“She just came up and duct-taped me,” the boy said in a December CBS5 News interview. The family was not commenting Tuesday, Cook said.
Torres also found out her son had been placed under a chair by Marianne Dubitsky around the same time he misbehaved during circle time; Dubitsky then sat on it, the claim alleges. The boy told his parents other students laughed and poked fun at him as he was restrained under the chair, the claim alleges.
“I think the teacher was frustrated with him for some reason,” Cook said. “The parents are understandably upset and concerned for the safety and welfare of their son, and he was traumatized by it.”
On Nov. 28, Torres alerted Principal Jeannie Dubitsky of both incidents. Dubitsky, 60, is the mother of the teacher allegedly involved in placing the boy under the chair.
The next day, the boy’s mother and father met with the principal, who took notes and arranged a meeting the following day with the teachers to allow them to respond. The parents met with the principal and Marianne Dubitsky and Mankewich; Torres secretly recorded the meeting, in which Mankewich admitted to the duct-taping, the claim alleges.
“I don’t think it was right to happen,” a voice purported to be Mankewich says in the recording provided for the television report. “I’m not gonna justify that I should have done it because I shouldn’t have. I should not. I feel horrible that it happened. It was a joke.”
Cook was out of town on business Tuesday and could not immediately provide the recording. But Torres told CBS5, “She said, ‘I walked over to his desk and I grabbed my duct tape and I came back and just put the duct tape on him.’ ”
“You shouldn’t have done that to our students, to my child or any other kid,” the mother said. “They don’t deserve that at all.”
Marianne Dubitsky refused to discuss the chair-confining allegation at the meeting, the claim alleges. At the end of that meeting, the parents were told a full investigation would take place.
On Jan. 10, a letter signed by the principal and her co-administrators Edna Heller and Todd Heller and sent to the Torres family said, “It was determined that there were no legal violations which have occurred related to your claims.”
The letter referenced only a complaint filed against Mankewich; the principal’s daughter was not named.
Cook questioned how a mother was allowed to investigate a complaint against her daughter.
“I think the reasonable inference was there was a lack of objectivity … I mean, come on, you’re being investigated by your own mother?” he said. “It leads us to believe this was handled internally by the school and basically brushed aside.”
After the Nov. 30 meeting, the parents filed a complaint with the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office, Cook said. The school is on the Contra Costa fairgrounds and in the sheriff’s jurisdiction. A sheriff’s spokesman confirmed Tuesday that a report was taken and the investigation is ongoing.
Her failure to report these alleged incidents is why Fajeau is named in the claim, Cook said.
Torres’ son is attending a new school in Antioch.