Shannon and Scott Peterson’s son, Hudson, who was 7 years old when he attended Tony Tobin Elementary School in Temecula last year, has Down syndrome, but he was progressing healthily and had some verbal communication skills before the alleged abuse.
Shannon Peterson said her son started coming home from school with bruises and other unexplained injuries.
“He came home with bloody scabs on his arms,” she said.
Hudson started to regress in his abilities after beginning the 2017-2018 school year, Shannon Peterson said. He became nonverbal, losing the ability to use the bathroom on his own and losing the ability to feed himself – all things he was able to do well before the school year, she said.
“We were just in full crisis mode,” Peterson said. “Like, what is going on with our child?”
An investigation determined the cause, Hudson’s mother said: a teacher’s aide was kicking and hitting Hudson, as well as psychologically abusing him by isolating him from the other students and putting him behind cardboard barriers at his desk.
“He was never allowed to access his peers,” Shannon Peterson said. “He was never allowed to access the curriculum.”
Shannon Peterson also said other students in Hudson’s class corroborated the allegations of abuse.
She and her husband initially tried pressing criminal charges but were unsuccessful, and they filed a civil lawsuit last year.
The school district, she said, never fired the aide – identified in court documents as Debbie Woodard – but instead asked her to resign, Peterson said, allowing her to seek employment in the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District.
Temecula Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Laura Boss said 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.
Seth Trench, spokesman for the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, confirmed Woodard was employed with the district and said she 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.”
Shannon Peterson said the Temecula school district has tried to blame her son for his injuries throughout the legal process.
“Their defense was that he didn’t defend himself from the abuse,” she said.
Jury selection for the Petersons’ civil lawsuit was scheduled to begin Tuesday, Oct. 15.
Will Fritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.