Family of special-needs child gets $950,000 in teacher abuse case


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A Bay Area family whose 5-year-old child was abused by an elementary school special-needs teacher in 2010 has been awarded $950,000 as part of a civil settlement with the Brentwood Union School District.


The settlement, which was reached last week, also stipulates that the teacher, Dina Holder, accept an immediate reassignment to a non-classroom setting and resign from the district at the end of the school year.

Attorneys for the parents of the special-needs child say that on May 25, 2010, Holder pulled the boy from his seat, kicked him twice and berated him with obscenities and derogatory language while about 10 to 12 students looked on.

The boy, who has a speech and language disorder, had refused to follow Holder’s commands to join a circle of other students, according to court documents.

Holder was so agitated another instructional aide took the woman out of the room to “calm her down,” according to the civil complaint.

“The teacher just lost it,” said Peter Alfert, an attorney for the family.

Caneel and Kevin Phelan, the parents of the child, said in a statement that the 3 1/2-foot tall child came home with a bruise, but the school district didn’t inform them for about a week.

According to court documents, the principal of Loma Vista School asked the parents to come to the school to discuss the incident.


Administrators told the parents that Holder had been placed on administrative leave, and the matter would be investigated and kept confidential.

The abuse was reported to police and the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office filed charges of misdemeanor child abuse against Holder. She pleaded no contest in October 2011.

The family separately sued the school district, Holder and Loma Vista Elementary Principal Lauri James in January 2012, claiming the teacher used unjustifiable force and employees failed to report incidents of abuse, among other claims.

The district repeatedly ignored complaints of abuse about Holder, which included an aide who claimed Holder restrained a child by taping his legs to a chair with masking tape and a mother who witnessed Holder shaking her 3-year-old child, Alfert said.

He added other teachers and aides did not comply with mandatory reporting requirements set by the state. Holder also did not have proper credentials to teach children with autism, Alfert said.

[For the Record, Jan. 19, 2012, 1:14 p.m.: A previous version of this post said teacher Dina Holder did not have proper credentials to teach special-needs children. She lacked credentials to teach children with autism.]


Neither Holder’s attorney nor the district responded to a request for comment.

The boy is now at a different school.


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