MOUNT BLANCHARD, Ohio — An attorney for the family of a Hancock County kindergarten student who was seen being pushed around by his teacher in school surveillance footage said the family is very upset that the teacher has been given what they see as a slap on the wrist.
The family of 6-year-old Ian Nelson of Wharton has hired Cleveland attorney Dan Margolis to represent them now that the case against Riverdale school teacher Barb Williams is being investigated by the Hancock County Sheriff’s department as a criminal complaint.
Ms. Williams, who was Ian’s teacher, has been suspended for 10 days without pay after school officials discovered video footage from a security camera showing her confronting the student, pushing him against a wall, and then lifting him up by his shirt and face.
The video has attracted international attention, including from the Daily Mail in England, and the boy’s parents have appeared on national TV.
RELATED: The sheriff's report
During NBC’s Today show broadcast Friday, Ian said that the teacher grabbed him by the shirt in a “hard” fashion.
“It broke my heart to see my child get harmed by a complete stranger,” Autumn Nelson, the mother of the boy, said during the interview.
“I was just in complete utter shock,” Mrs. Nelson said when she first viewed the video. “[The administration] should have just fired her when they heard about the whole situation when she put her hands on him.”
The Nelson family also appeared on the Fox network on the Fox and Friends morning program on Friday.
Riverdale Superintendent Eric Hoffman said he has apologized to the parents for the teacher’s actions but for now he stands by his decision on the 10-day suspension. Mr. Hoffman said he will wait until the criminal investigation is complete before making a decision about further action against the teacher, who has worked as a kindergarten teacher in the district since 2000.
Mr. Hoffman said the case is being investigated by at least three agencies, including the sheriff’s office, as well as the Ohio Department of Education and the Hancock County Department of Children’s Services.
According to a summary report of the incident written May 8 by Julie Spade, the elementary school’s principal, three cooks provided information about the incident that they overheard while on their break.
They reported hearing Ms. Williams “speaking very harshly” to the boy, and wrote down statements that they heard her say, including “I am sick of you,” “I am sick of your parents,” and “I will rip you apart.”
According to the document, the teacher told Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Spade during an interview with them that Ian had been going back and forth to the bathroom and that when she confronted him in the hallway she was “furious. I was very hard on him.” She said she had used the term “rip” before but claimed it was in a different context.
“I was loud, in his face, and I pushed him back. I feel like I was over the top/edge. He’s pushing me over the top/edge and my kids over the top/edge. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do with it,” the report states Ms. Williams said to the administrators.
Hancock County Sheriff Michael Heldman said his office began looking into the case after they received a copy of the video. He said deputies took statements from the parents Wednesday. The sheriff said it could be Monday or Tuesday before the investigation is complete.
The sheriff plans to turn over all evidence to the county prosecutor, who will decide if assault or child endangering charges will be brought against Ms. Williams.
“Let’s say that the person who grabbed this child was a high school senior in Riverdale Local — do you think that student would be suspended for 10 days, or would they be expelled?” the Nelson family attorney asked.
There has been a history of the teacher singling out Ian in the classroom, Mr. Margolis said. He said Ian’s parents indicated there has been something going on in the classroom that was making Ian unhappy.
“Having seen the venom and anger she carries for this young child, it calls into question what has been happening,” he said. He added that Ian’s family recently moved to the Riverdale school district and that Ian was a “very happy child” in his former school.
Toledo attorney Jay Feldstein, who represents Ms. Williams, said the teacher with 25 years of experience deserves due process and not a rush to judgment.
“Obviously we’re encouraging everyone to withhold judgment and let the process play out,” Mr. Feldstein said. “With that in mind, we’re going to decline to make comments about it. Let’s let the process work itself out.”
Mr. Margolis said Ian has not been back to school since his parents were alerted to the video. He also said they are not sure when he will return to the classroom.
“He is heavily traumatized by this incident. No child can be physically assaulted by a person they are suppose to trust and be OK,” Mr. Margolis said.
Mr. Hoffman said the Ohio Department of Education has confirmed it has received the school district’s report on the incident and is conducting an investigation. A spokesman for the state agency said, however, by law he is not allowed to confirm or deny that the department is investigating the conduct of a teacher.
Spokesman John Charlton said the investigation will remain confidential unless the accused teacher requests a hearing or if the person is found guilty and disciplined by the board of education. He said if a teacher is found guilty of assault or endangering a child, the Ohio School Board has the authority to permanently revoke the teacher’s license.
Mr. Hoffman said school officials first noticed the incident on the district’s security camera footage on May 7. They started taking action the next day.
The superintendent said he met with the parents on Tuesday, and provided them with the video and documents about the teacher’s suspension.
The Riverdale school district is located in a rural area south of Findlay, about 60 miles south of Toledo. The K-12 district has about 1,000 students who come from three counties — Hancock, Hardin, and Wyandot, Mr. Hoffman said.
Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.