Trial date pushed back for lawsuit against Temecula Valley Unified for alleged abuse of special needs child

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The parents of Hudson Peterson say he was abused by a teacher’s aide at Tony Tobin Elementary School in Temecula, during the 2016-2017 school year when Hudson was 7 years old. The abuse caused a noticeable regression in Hudson’s skills and capabilities, the Petersons say. Photo courtesy of Shannon Peterson

Trial proceedings were delayed for a lawsuit filed by the parents of a child at a Temecula-area elementary school who are alleging a teacher’s aide abused their son.

Shannon and Scott Peterson sued Temecula Valley Unified School District on behalf of their young son in December 2017.

The trial was slated to begin Oct. 16, but a judge reset jury selection to begin Nov. 14 at the earliest, according to court records.

The Petersons’ son, Hudson, who has Down syndrome, was 7 years old when he attended Tony Tobin Elementary School in south Temecula during the 2017-2018 school year. Hudson is identified in court documents as “Roe,” but Shannon Peterson provided his name.

Shannon Peterson said her son was progressing healthily and had some verbal communication skills before he started coming home from school with bruises and other unexplained injuries.

“He came home with bloody scabs on his arms,” she said.

After starting the school year, Hudson gradually became nonverbal, lost the ability to use the bathroom on his own and stopped being able to feed himself, Shannon Peterson said – all things he was able to do well before the school year.

“We were just in full crisis mode,” Peterson said. “Like, what is going on with our child?”

After investigating, Shannon Peterson said she and her husband discovered the cause: a teacher’s aide was allegedly kicking and hitting Hudson, as well as psychologically abusing him by isolating him from the rest of the class and putting him behind cardboard barriers at his desk.

Shannon Peterson also said other students in Hudson’s class corroborated the allegations of abuse.

“Another student … who is a verbal student with autism actually reported the abuse prior to it being witnessed. Our principal acknowledged that this was witnessed,” Shannon Peterson said.

A civil complaint filed by the Petersons states they believe Woodard abused their son in at least two known instances March 9 and March 20, 2017, saying she “egregiously, illegally and/or aggressively used physical force, physical restraints, verbally chastised, yelled, screamed, pinched, dug her fingernails into (Hudson’s) arm, dragged, hit and grabbed him so as to cause him severe emotional and physical damage including school anxiety, stress, red marks on his chest and arms, bruising, bleeding, scabbing, escalation and spikes in behaviors, school refusal (and) an extreme dislike for school and school personnel.”

 

The Petersons initially tried pressing criminal charges but were unsuccessful, and they filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of their son last year.

The district, Shannon Peterson said, did not deny the claims, but instead sought to blame her son.

“They never said the claims were unfounded. Their own report from their own internal investigation determined the abuse was founded,” she said. “Their defense was that he didn’t defend himself from the abuse.”

Shannon Peterson said the school district did not fire the aide, who court documents identify as Debbie Woodard, but instead asked her to resign. 

Fallbrook Union Elementary School District spokesman Seth Trench confirmed Oct. 11 that Woodard was employed with the district and had been placed on administrative leave, though he would not say when.

“We have been made aware of a concern regarding a district staff member’s previous employment in a different district,” Trench said. “Although there has been no allegation of any wrongdoing by this employee in the Fallbrook Union Elementary District, the employee was placed on administrative leave while we look further into concerns, and so that staff and students can continue to teach and learn without distraction. As with all personnel matters, the district cannot provide any additional information at this time.”

Temecula Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Laura Boss said Oct. 10 the district would not comment on pending litigation but confirmed Woodard was no longer employed with the district.

“I can also confirm that the Temecula Police Department conducted a police investigation into the matter, at the time of the alleged incident, and no findings or charges were filed by their agency,” Boss said.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com