Photo by Stephen Pottage/Getty Images
Photo by Stephen Pottage/Getty Images

The Brentwood Unified School District has agreed to pay $8 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the families of eight special needs students who were physically and verbally abused by a special education teacher in the district.

The suit, filed in federal court last August, alleged that teacher Dina Holder had shaken, slapped, kicked, yelled and swore at students. The victims of the alleged abuse ranged in age from 3 to 6 years old and have been diagnosed with a variety of conditions, including autism, Down syndrome, recombinant 8 syndrome, Cornella de Lange syndrome, and chromosome 22q13.3 deletion syndrome. The suit cited Holder for violating students’ Fourth and 14th Amendment rights and protections guaranteed by federal laws.

Among the episodes recounted in the lawsuit (embedded in its entirety below):

On May 25, 2010, Ms. Holder (and) three instructional aides were preparing the class for circle time. A student was cutting out paper for a project and did not comply with Ms. Holder’s request that he join the rest of the class. Ms. Holder grabbed the student by the arm and pulled him of the chair. The student fell to the ground and was lying prone on his side. Ms. Holder forcefully kicked him in the lower back or buttocks to move him toward the circle area.

The attack was observed by two of the instructional aides, who describe her as yelling aggressively at the student to get up and go to the circle. One stated that she kicked the student “like you would kick a dog out of the way.” One of the aides yelled at Ms. Holder to stop and pulled her off of the student. Ms. Holder stopped kicking the student and as she walked away, she called him a “stupid son of a bitch.” She said the epithet loudly enough that all of the instructional aides and the students were able to hear it.

The suit also alleged that school officials were aware of Holder’s violent behavior but failed to take appropriate action, including reporting abuse to police as required by state law.

The Contra Costa Times reports that the school trustees of the Brentwood Unified School District voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the settlement.

The Times quoted Superintendent Dana Eaton as saying after the board approved the settlement, “We have learned painful, necessary lessons about the culture we must have in place if we are to be worthy of the trust parents place in us.”

Holder was also at the center of an earlier lawsuit that the district settled in 2012 for $950,000. According to the Times, Holder pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of child abuse. Despite that, the district allowed her to return to the classroom, transferring her from one to another.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

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