Santa Rosa police are investigating allegations that an award-winning Santa Rosa High School teacher struck a special education student on the head on multiple occasions last spring.
The investigation marks the second time police have delved into allegations made by Michael Delgado and his parents, Jeannie and Manuel, that teacher Willie Swindle struck Michael Delgado during the the school day.
Santa Rosa City Schools has hired an attorney and a private investigator to re-examine the original allegations and how school and district employees handled the case.
The district has acknowledged that Swindle pinched or pulled Michael Delgado's ear. Claims that the teacher took Michael Delgado into the hall and clapped him on the head were unsubstantiated according to the district investigation, but interviews conducted cited witnesses who said Swindle would "clap Michael on both cheeks with his open palm" while in the classroom.
Swindle, 67, remains in the classroom, and the district won't say what, if any, punishment the teacher received.
"Why is he still teaching? That is our main thing: Why is he still there?" Manuel Delgado said.
"I would like to see the teacher not teaching anymore, not shuffled off anywhere. That is our concern," he said. "And the school district owns up, 'OK, we made a mistake.' Fire the teacher and move on. I don't think that is asking for much."
District policy defines child abuse as, among other things, "a physical injury which is inflicted (other than accidentally) on a child by another person," "willful cruelty or unjustifiable punishment of a child" and "willfully inflicting unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering or failure to safeguard a child from these injuries," among others.
"I can tell you that the district has taken action in the matter, and they believe they have taken action that will safeguard the situation," said Margaret Merchat, an attorney with School and College Legal Services of California hired by the district to handle the case.
Police officers assigned to the Mendocino Avenue campus under the school resource officer program initially examined allegations that Swindle struck Michael Delgado during the spring semester.
"We investigated this at the end of the school year to the extent that we could. In the case that we investigated, there was not sufficient evidence to file a complaint," Police Lt. Ben Harlin said.
An investigation by the school district turned up additional information, prompting the police to launch a second inquiry, Harlin said.
The follow-up investigation is ongoing, Sgt. Mike Clark said. "They are fully cooperating with us," Clark said of the district.
Michael Delgado no longer is in Swindle's class but he remains on the Santa Rosa High School campus, doing academic work in a special education class, taking electives with the general student population and helping on the school's maintenance crew.
Delgado, who is developmentally delayed and has cognitive slowness according to school records, has a "very low" IQ, according to the same documents.
Swindle, has been with Sonoma County's largest school district since August 2003.
Just weeks before the Delgado family alleges Swindle started hitting Michael Delgado, then 15, Swindle was honored as Santa Rosa High's nominee for California League of High Schools Educator of the Year for Region One. In 2006, he was nominated by the school for the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year award.
Swindle did not return repeated calls for comment. District officials have validated at least some of the Delgados' complaints, but will not comment on what, if any, discipline he faced.
In a May 1 letter to the Delgados, Assistant Superintendent Mark Klick acknowledged that a district investigation led by former special education director Debra Sanders had verified that at least some of the incidents of Swindle striking Michael Delgado.
An investigation into the claim by Delgado and his parents that Swindle took the boy into the hallway for a "pow wow" and clapped him with both hands on the side of his head were not substantiated, but witnesses interviewed reported seeing Swindle clap Michael Delgado's cheeks while in the classroom.
"One witness also reported seeing Mr. Swindle clap Michael on both cheeks with his open palms while they were standing facing each other in the classroom," the letter reads. "The witness further reported that Michael said 'ouch' and that no more than five minutes later Mr. Swindle came back to Michael from behind and slapped his cheeks again while he was standing in the main walkway of the classroom."
In the same letter, the district also validated the family's allegation that Swindle touched Michael Delgado's ears, noting a witness described the contact as "flicking," "pinching," and "pulling."