Serial child abuser finds easy prey in classrooms
Children's safeguards are scant to nonexistent
By Barbara Neff, June 8, 2003

My story is two-part. I have documents to support every aspect of my story. I have names and contact numbers of individuals within each government office mentioned who can verify each statement. The general nature of this story primarily relates to private schools in the State of CA grades one through twelve, though many aspects of the story apply in some manner to all schools.

Part I

Private schools in CA grades one through twelve are not licensed by CA Social Services or the CA Department of Education. There is no entity in the State with any regulatory control whatsoever over these schools. Anyone in this state can obtain a city business license and open a private school. In fact, my son's private elementary school here in Palm Desert operated for more than a decade without so much as a city business license. No specific credentials are required of those who own or operate private schools, no one checks backgrounds of those who open private schools, and no one checks to see who is employed within them.

Teachers in these schools are not required to have any specific level or field of education. They are not required to hold teaching credentials through the CA Commission on Teacher Credentialing as teachers in public schools are. A few laws currently in place appear to offer some forms of protection for students in private schools in CA. But, they are not enforceable by District Attorneys because they are not written with inclusion of criminal penalties for failure to comply. Operators of private schools in CA are required to submit to the CA Department of Education each year a Private School Affidavit (CA Ed Code 33190) in which they swear criminal background summaries have been obtained via the Department of Justice for all teachers and directors (CA Education 44237). However, no one at the Department of Ed or any other department checks the veracity of these affidavits. The affidavits are only used to compile an annually published directory of private schools in the state.

Parents in CA have no way of verifying that owners and staff at their children's private schools are not convicted child predators. The Department of Justice will not confirm for parents or the public whether teachers, directors, owners or other staff at private schools were criminally cleared before being granted access to the students. Operators of private schools are not required to retain proof that employees were criminally cleared through the Department of Justice prior to employment. While CA State Senator Jim Battin is attentive to this problem, which I reported to him last summer, and has written proposed new legislation to begin addressing it (SB 275, which recently passed without opposition the Senate Committee on Public Safety and the Senate Appropriations Committee and will soon go before the Legislature), change is sure be slow. In the interim, thousands of children sit in a zone of lawlessness each and every school day in our state in private schools.

Laws must be enacted that make those who own and operate private schools in this state accountable to someone. Currently, unless a child shows physical signs of injury and unless adult witnesses come forward immediately, law enforcement and District Attorneys are not likely to take action against an abuser in a private school. Further, if parents in CA have concerns or complaints regarding the treatment of their children in a private school, they have no one to whom they can report or complain in the absence of physical evidence of and adult witnesses to injury. Law enforcement and county CPS offices are reluctant to become involved because even they do not understand that private schools grades one through twelve in this state are not under regulatory control of the Department of Ed, Social Services or any other state agency. The State of CA Department of Consumer Affairs will not become involved due to the absence of state licensing of private schools. Only the Better Business Bureau, I found after repeated attempts, will accept a complaint.

The large problem summarized above allows for painful personal stories. The specifics of my story relate to our community. Similar stories surely have taken place in other communities and are taking place as I write this letter.

Part II

My child and sixteen of his young classmates were in a combined first and second grade classroom in a private elementary school here in Palm Desert from September of 2001 until April of 2002. The woman hired to teach them has never held CA teaching credentials. She was not criminally cleared prior to hiring via the DOJ by the owner of the school. She was ordered in 1997 by the State of CA Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing Division not to work in state licensed child care facilities due to her abusive treatment of children over a twelve year period in this state.

On April 25, 2002, a reporter from the Orange County Register newspaper arrived near the entrance of my son's private elementary school to advise parents of the problematic past of this woman. This reporter and his associates had been following her professional path for many months.

Parents in Palm Desert convened as the result of the visit from the reporter. We reviewed the documents to which he led us that proved all he stated about the woman who had been in the classroom with our children. We learned through personal sharing no fewer than two dozen complaints had gone to the owner of the school here in Palm Desert over the prior eight months that this woman was acting in unprofessional and abusive ways in the classroom. The school and the teacher were investigated by the Palm Desert office of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. Four misdemeanor counts of child abuse were recommended against the teacher to the local office of the DA. The local office of the DA declined to file the charges citing lack of evidence.

"During the course of employment at child day care facilities between 1986 and 1997 respondent has engaged in a pattern and practice of subjecting children in her care to poking, shaking, grabbing, hitting, kicking, yelling, pinching, hair pulling, twisting of limbs, verbal intimidation, corporal punishment and other forms of punitive action."
From a November 10th, 1997 State of California Department of Social Services file on this teacher.
Six months later, in January, 2003, I discovered by routine internet search the abusive woman was employed in the Phoenix area as a teacher of autistic students in a public elementary school. I emailed the school on January 11 and advised they contact CA Department of Social Services to obtain documents relating to her past. They did and placed the woman on leave while they investigated. School officials in Phoenix had amassed during fall term, 2002, a one-inch thick file of complaints from aides that this woman was battering, intimidating and humiliating children in the autistic program, but school officials failed to notify authorities. A criminal investigation ensued when parents learned of this woman's past and obtained her personnel file from the school district. Only then did parents learn aides witnessed battering of their children.

The prosecutor in Gilbert, AZ, declined to file criminal charges, even with adult witnesses to assaults on the children. Their reasons: Lack of physical evidence of abuse and lack of clear legal definitions of abuse.

This woman, a menace to children between the ages of two and eight, has apparently never been convicted of criminal wrongdoing involving children. I'd like to ensure this dangerous person has difficulty inserting herself into the lives of future children. However, her apparently clear criminal record and the unwillingness of authorities to bring criminal charges against her will surely allow her to land another teaching job soon, if she has not already.

Please contact me if you have questions or would like a list of supporting documents and people. Feel free to share this story as you deem appropriate.

Barbara Neff
40459 Barington Drive
Palm Desert, CA 92211
(760) 360-2392

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