MALIBU — The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office is investigating allegations of neglect brought by parents and aides of special education students against a teacher at Juan Cabrillo Elementary.

Parents and classroom aides spoke before the Board of Education at its Thursday meeting at Malibu City Hall, alleging that a special education teacher in charge of moderate to severely disabled children left her students unattended and improperly restrained them.

Parents were alerted to the alleged acts on Oct. 22 by classroom aides, said parent Christina Ficeto in her presentation to the board.

Since, parents met with district personnel on Oct. 28, but left unsatisfied after being told that an incident had been investigated, and no wrongdoing had been found.

The parents contacted the sheriff’s office, and deputies have already taken statements from both parents and aides.

Parents have also retained legal counsel, Ficeto said.

The investigation into the alleged child neglect is being handled by the Los Angeles County Special Victims Bureau, said Sgt. Michael Holland of the Malibu/Lost Hills Station.

Many of the alleged victims cannot speak, and investigators have to rely on witnesses and physical evidence like bruising, Holland said.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District staff and administrators are cooperating fully with the investigation, Superintendent Sandra Lyon told the Board of Education at its Thursday meeting.

The district would not comment further, Lyon said, because personnel issues are confidential.

Ficeto challenged the Board of Education to deal with the issue because other school personnel had not witnessed the alleged abuses.

District personnel had similarly not witnessed Thomas Beltran’s crimes, she said.

Beltran, a former teacher at Lincoln Middle School, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of sexual molestation involving nine female students in December 2008.

Beltran was arrested that spring, but evidence suggested the district had received at least one complaint about Beltran’s behavior toward girls before a student went to the police department in 2008.

He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

“Those girls are serving life sentences of shame, of guilt, of nightmares, of distrust, of fear, of dignity, of innocence robbed from them,” Ficeto said.

The revelation about Beltran led the Board of Education to require an annual report documenting the number of child abuse reports made by school personnel, and which of those complaints involved employees.

According to that report, released in the Oct. 20 meeting agenda, district employees reported 95 suspected instances of abuse, categorized as sexual abuse, physical abuse, general neglect and emotional abuse.

In the 2010-11 school year, employees reported 13 cases of sexual abuse, 54 of physical abuse, eight of general neglect and 20 emotional abuse cases.

All employees are mandated reporters, meaning they have a legal responsibility to report even the suspicion of abuse to authorities.

Teachers, doctors, safety officers and others all fall into the category of “mandated reporter.” It can be a misdemeanor for such a person to recognize abuse and not report it.

Chris Perkins, the project manager for a grant that funds mandatedreporterca.org, a free training program for mandated reporters, said that the most important element is to get past the fear of reporting.

“We emphasize that if you have suspicion of child abuse, go ahead and report it,” Perkins said. “After that the actual research and an investigation happens. As long as you have a legitimate suspicion of abuse, report it. Even if it becomes unfounded, at least people are looking for these sorts of things.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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