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Former California principal charged after shoving special needs student to the ground, authorities say

By Caroll Alvarado, CNN

A former principal in California was charged with a misdemeanor Wednesday for “cruelty to child by endangering health” after he was caught on camera aggressively shoving a student with special needs to the ground, according to local authorities and court documents.

Earlier this week the Fresno Unified School District released surveillance video of now-former Wolters Elementary School principal, Brian Vollhardt, pushing an unidentified 11-year-old student to the ground in June while he and other staffers were working with the “upset student.” The video does not contain audio and the student’s face has been blurred.

In the video the student gestures toward Vollhardt and appears to point his finger at him twice before the former principal shoves the student. It is not clear what led up to the incident.

“Instead of de-escalating the situation, which is what we expect of an educator in our system, the former principal chose to aggressively shove the student down instead,” Superintendent Bob Nelson said during a news conference Wednesday.

The child’s guardian, Ann Frank, told CNN affiliate KFSN the case lingered at police headquarters until she complained about the lack of charges two weeks ago. It took the school district three months to show her the video, she added.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by KFSN, Vollhardt said the student “was yelling and getting in the principal/suspect’s face” while making threats. Citing the ongoing investigation, police and the school district declined to comment on Vollhardt’s comments in the affidavit.

“You cannot put force to these kids like that,” Frank said in an interview with KFSN. “My son is autistic. Any parents seeing this video, they know what I’m feeling right now. My son was pushed with force by this principal who was supposed to protect him.”

Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderama acknowledged during the news conference the system failed to act quickly in this case.

“I found out about the incident two days ago. At about 3 p.m. on Tuesday.” Balderrama said Thursday. “We have since gone back and looked at our process on how these types of cases are handled. I as police chief want to be notified any time there’s an assault this serious occurs in any one of our schools. That didn’t happen in this case.”

Both Nelson and Balderrama said the principal’s actions were inexcusable, with Nelson adding what the video shows is “repugnant.”

Vollhardt was put on administrative leave on June 8 after the district became aware of the incident, Nelson said. The district also notified Fresno Police and Child Protective Services, he added.

Vollhardt resigned before the district completed their investigation, Nelson said.

Vollhardt was later hired as a vice principal in the Golden Plains Unified School District. Martin Marcias, the school district’s superintendent, told CNN they were made aware of the June 7 incident on Wednesday and have since placed Vollhardt on administrative leave.

Roger Wilson, Vollhardt’s lawyer, said he has asked the district attorney’s office for more information and cannot make an informed statement regarding the incident until he receives discovery from the District Attorney’s office. In the meantime, he says he has scheduled a court date for Vollhardt, Wilson said.

According to Nelson, the student is physically OK and has been provided emotional support.

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