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California Principal Caught on Video Shoving Autistic Student to the Ground Now Faces Child Abuse Charge



An elementary school principal in California who resigned after shoving a special needs student now faces a misdemeanor child abuse charge.

The Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) announced alongside local law enforcement last week that former Wolters Elementary School principal Brian Vollhardt shoved an “upset student” on June 7.

The district said in a statement that Vollhardt “joined a small group of students having their breakfast” in the cafeteria that morning.

“The former principal and a couple of staff members were working with an upset student. Instead of de-escalating the situation, the former principal chose to aggressively shove the student down,” the district said.

Superintendent Bob Nelson said at a Wednesday press conference on the incident that the conduct shown on video was “repugnant” and would not be tolerated in the district. Although he said it did not appear the incident was racially motivated, Nelson also emphasized his awareness of the “racial dynamics” of a white principal aggressively shoving an African American child.

The district said that Vollhardt was placed on leave on June 8, the day after the incident. The district further said that the incident was reported to the Fresno Police Department and Child Protective Services on June 9. Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama confirmed that timeline but said he personally didn’t know about the case until two days before the press conference — three months after the incident.

Chief Balderrama said that Vollhardt was charged with willful cruelty to a minor.

The student’s guardian said in an interview that the boy is autistic. According to KFSN, Ann Frank claimed Vollhardt initially told her that the 10-year-old assaulted him. She also criticized police for letting the case languish for months. CBS 12 reported that Vollhardt went on to get a job in a different school district as the case stalled. He was placed on leave there, too, after the video was played at the press conference.

The chief, crediting a Fresno Bee reporter for exposing the story, said that a police report was taken by a trainee and a corporal on June 13. He said the report and the video was entered into their system that day.

Balderrama apologized for the “system failure,” which he has described as “fail[ing] to properly categorize the incident as an ‘active case.'” He acknowledged “an unnecessary and unacceptable delay in our process.” He also said he “should have been notified” about the incident sooner.

FUSD said Vollhardt resigned after “the district initiated the disciplinary process” following an investigation.

Vollhardt’s lawyer reportedly said the student was known for “acting out all the time.”

[Image via Frenso Unified School District]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.