MILTON — A woman was charged with two misdemeanors in March after she allegedly struck an 8-year-old student with Down syndrome on the head while she was working as a bus aide for the Cape Henlopen School District on Jan. 21.
The woman turned herself in to Delaware State Police on March 21, after an arrest warrant was drafted March 18, agency spokesman Senior Cpl. Leonard DeMalto said Monday. The charges — offensive touching and endangering the welfare of a child — were filed after a DSP school resource officer in the district reviewed the case with the Delaware Attorney General’s Office.
The case is pending adjudication, Cpl. DeMalto added. The offensive-touching count could bring up to 30 days’ incarceration, with up to a year for the charge of endangering the welfare of a child.
At a Cape Henlopen school board meeting April 28, the child’s father, Ryan Pickett, spoke publicly on the matter for the allowed three minutes during an open forum. He described his version of how the district handled the case and questioned what he said was a two-week delay in his family’s notification about the incident.
On Monday, through spokeswoman Stephanie DeMalto, Cape Henlopen School District superintendent Robert Fulton issued a statement that read: “We take the safety of all of our students very seriously and hold all of our employees to the highest of standards. The individual involved is no longer an employee of the district. Under Delaware law, even former employees have privacy rights, and thus we cannot provide further comment.”
According to Mr. Pickett, his family did not learn of the alleged incident until Feb. 4, when contacted by the school’s SRO. He said his daughter is a second-grader at Milton Elementary School and was riding a bus for special-needs students.
“We were unhappy that nobody from the district contacted us. It was the resource officer,” he said.
Because of the delay, Mr. Pickett said, “there’s additional things we’re working through (with our daughter), but we’ll never know the physical damage. We saw the video, and I thought she was hit. I don’t want our daughter to be the poster child of this, but she was punched. There’s no way around it.”
Mr. Pickett, a special education educator in the Capital School District, noted that the arrest happened on World Down Syndrome Day. His wife, Tara Pickett, teaches in the Caesar Rodney School District, as well.
Furthermore, he said his daughter received no support from CHSD following the alleged incident.
“Districts have psychiatrists, psychologists, behavior specialists, counselors. They have all kinds of things, and they made no effort to do anything to help her,” he said.
As a result of the incident, according to Mr. Pickett, “(his daughter’s) behavior completely changed at home. It completely changed at school, to the point where someone had called my wife to say, ‘You know, your daughter is misbehaving, and we need to send her home,’ and my wife said, ‘Well, you know, maybe because she’s had trauma, and no one’s done anything to help.’”
He added that, on Jan. 21, “according to the resource officer, all the kids came off the bus crying, which led people that were there to receive them to wonder what happened. My daughter actually refused to get off the bus (and) was crying uncontrollably.”
Roughly two weeks later, the Picketts were contacted by the SRO after he and the transportation supervisor reviewed video from the bus.
When a subsequent attempt to meet with Mr. Fulton was unsuccessful, Mr. Pickett said the family met with two other district officials for roughly 30 minutes Feb. 8. It was during this meeting they were able to view the bus’s video.
“They showed us the video and, of course, apologized,” he said. “We talked about some things we would like to see changed. (At the time,) they refused to tell us if the woman was fired or still a member of the district. The only assurance they gave us was that the woman was never going to be on our kid’s bus. As a parent, that’s mortifying to think that they can’t even guarantee that she’s not going to work there.”
Mr. Pickett said he and his wife, while watching the video, “could also hear the verbal abuse the aide gave towards our daughter.”
“This whole situation has been made worse by the obvious intentions of the district office to sweep the incident under the rug,” he said.