Richland 1 Special Ed Teacher Alleges Autistic Son Assaulted at Her School

August 12, 2013

Investigative Reports

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Richland Capitol SchoolsWhen Stephanie Trevitz returns to work today at Caughman Road Elementary School in Richland County School District 1, she’ll once again begin preparing lesson plans and other activities for her special education students.

Trevitz, who began teaching in 1989 in Tennessee and has been employed by the Richland 1 district since 2006, is highly trained, holding a doctorate in general administrative leadership and a master’s degree in special education from Vanderbilt University, and becoming nationally certified in 2008 as an exceptional needs specialist. In 2009, she started a business that deals with special education issues, including offering expert witness testimony.

Trevitz also has plenty of personal experience in the area, as she and her husband, Rex, are the parents of six adopted special needs children, ages 12 through 20.

In 2011, Trevitz’s personal and professional worlds collided, and neither has been the same since.

On March 31, 2011, Trevitz filed a report with the Columbia Police Department alleging that one of her sons, then 11, who attended Caughman Road Elementary School, was beaten with a yardstick in a school bathroom by Carlos Herrington, then 33, an instructional assistant assigned to help the boy. Trevitz initially reported the alleged incident to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, which referred the matter to Columbia police because the school is located within the city limits.

The boy, who is autistic, is not being identified for this story to protect his privacy. He was not a student in his mother’s class at the time of the alleged incident and no longer attends the school.

Herrington was charged with third-degree assault and battery, a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, and was placed on paid administrative leave for up to 10 days by the school district, police and school district records show. On July 24, 2012, the Columbia City Attorney’s Office dropped the charge, with the stipulation that Herrington not work in any Richland 1 school attended by Trevitz’s children, records show. A Columbia municipal judge last Oct. 11 signed off on the agreement, according to a copy of his order.

Trevitz and her husband in March sued Herrington, the school district, school board, district Superintendent Percy Mack, Caughman Road Elementary School Principal Jane Wyatt and others for an unspecified amount of damages, court records show. The case is pending in Richland County Circuit Court.

Under the state’s Tort Claims Act, awards against government agencies generally are capped at $300,000 per plaintiff or a total of $600,000 per case.

Herrington is assigned this school year as an instructional assistant at Bradley Elementary School, district spokeswoman Karen York said in an email response last week to The Nerve. Although none of Trevitz’s children will attend that school when classes start on Aug. 19, Trevitz isn’t satisfied with the arrangement.

“I did everything I feel I needed to do and feel the whole system failed us,” she told The Nerve in recent interviews. “I want to see him (Herrington) not working with children any longer.”

“The safety of my clients’ children is our first priority,” said Lancaster attorney Elizabeth Hyatt, who represents the Trevitz couple in the lawsuit, when contacted by The Nerve. “But we’re also concerned about the district.”

York declined to comment on specifics of the suit, saying only in her written response to The Nerve that it is “our practice not to comment on pending litigation.”

Other Alleged Incidents

After Trevitz reported the alleged incident to police, Mack Ouzts, the district’s director of classified employment services, informed Herrington that he would be transferred for the remainder of the school year to work with a special education class at Bradley Elementary School, records show.

“As you know, this is the third report that has been filed regarding your handling of discipline with students,” Ouzts wrote in his April 18, 2011, letter to Herrington. “You need to make certain that the techniques that you use are appropriate and district-approved.”

The letter did not provide any details of the other two reports against Harrington. Corporal punishment is prohibited in the district, according to a copy of the district policy provided to The Nerve by York.

In the same month that Trevitz reported the alleged incident involving her son, Herrington was accused of pushing a 9-year-old boy against a bathroom wall at Caughman Road Elementary School, according to a Richland County Sheriff’s Department report. Herrington was not charged in the alleged March 1, 2011, incident; a March 18, 2011, letter to him from Ouzts said there was “no evidence to substantiate the allegations,” and that Ouzts had heard “nothing further from law enforcement about any further investigation.”

Herrington was described in both police reports as 6 feet 5 inches tall, weighing 275 pounds.

York, the district’s spokeswoman, declined comment when asked by The Nerve about other alleged incidents involving Herrington.

Efforts by The Nerve to reach Herrington were unsuccessful. In a March 2, 2011, written statement about the alleged incident involving the 9-year-old boy, Herrington said he calmly discussed the boy’s reported “disruptive” behavior with the child in a bathroom to “avoid embarrassing him by speaking in front of all of the people in the hall.” Herrington said he suggested that the student “write a letter of apology to his teachers as a display of sincerity,” according to the statement.

As for the allegations involving Trevitz’s son, Ouzts in his April 18, 2011, letter to Herrington said Herrington contended the only incident he could recall involving Trevitz’s son was a November 2010 incident in which Trevitz called him and asked him to “come back to her classroom to help her get the child under control.”

“You indicate that when you arrived she gave you a plastic fly swatter and asked you to use it to spank the child,” Ouzts wrote. “You also recalled numerous incidents where you have been asked by the mother to intervene with other children in the family.”

Trevitz denied Herrington’s account when asked about it by The Nerve, describing it as a “lie.”

“Spanking is not allowed under Richland One policy,” she said.

In her March 31, 2011, report to Columbia police, Trevitz said her then-10-year-old daughter, who at the time was a student at Caughman Road Elementary School, witnessed the alleged assault on her brother.

Trevitz told The Nerve that her daughter saw Herrington, who had a yardstick, take her son, who was screaming at the time, into a school bathroom. She said her daughter continued to hear her brother scream in the bathroom and a short time later saw Herrington bring him out of the bathroom “by the collar of his shirt.”

The lawsuit against Herrington and others contends that Herrington hit the boy across the “buttocks, legs, hips, cheeks, and lips.”

‘Never Give In’

Trevitz told The Nerve that in January 2011 – about two months before she reported the alleged incident to police – she began noticing that her son was acting differently – not wanting to go to school, vomiting in and out of school, and developing a verbal tic that prevented him from speaking.

She said she later learned what happened after her son and daughter who witnessed the alleged incident were arguing one day at home, and her daughter blurted out to her brother, “If you don’t stop, I will tell Mr. Herrington.”

Trevitz said her son and daughter were interviewed in May 2011 by trained forensic interviewers at the Assessment & Resource Center, a nonprofit child-abuse evaluation and treatment center in Columbia. She said her children’s accounts were “deemed reliable and credible.”

Trevitz said her son suffered emotional and academic problems after the alleged incident. She also said the ordeal has taken a toll on her emotionally as well; the lawsuit contends that Trevitz and her husband have suffered “severe emotional distress resulting in mental distress, fear, and nervousness.”

Still, Trevitz said she refuses to give up her fight. During a recent interview with The Nerve, she wore a necklace inscribed with the famous “Never give in” saying by Winston Churchill. She said she wears the necklace often these days.

“I cannot give up until my children and the children of others are safe from harm,” Trevitz said.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.