RAYMOND — A parent of a former kindergarten student at Lamprey River Elementary is suing the Raymond School District and an ex-teacher who pleaded guilty to assaulting the boy during an incident at the school last year.
Lindsay Bolton of Ashby, Mass., filed the suit in Rockingham County Superior Court last week against the school district and Denise Santos, who taught in Raymond for about 12 years.
According to the suit, Bolton’s 6-year-old son was a special needs student in kindergarten during the 2017-2018 school year. She alleges that Santos “made no secret of her dislike” for her son and complained about his behavior and need for extra attention.
The suit claims that at times the boy spent more time in the principal’s office than in class.
The legal action follows a criminal case that was brought against Santos in the wake of an assault at a school water fountain. In March, Santos, 65, of Campton, pleaded guilty to simple assault.
According to a Raymond police report, school Superintendent Tina McCoy contacted the state’s Division of Children, Youth and Families on May 18, 2018 to report that the child had lined up with other students in the hallway and that at some point the boy got out of line to get a drink of water. Santos saw this, came out of her classroom while he was at the fountain and “forcefully pulled” on an art apron he was wearing, tearing it and causing him to fall to the floor, police Detective Richard Labell wrote in the report.
Santos “forcefully” picked the boy up, placed him back in line with other students and then pulled him by the arm around a corner, the report said.
Santos was placed on administrative leave and retired on June 30, 2018.
The incident was captured on video cameras in the school hallway.
According to the police report, the video showed the boy waiting his turn to get a drink. Santos is seen exiting a room and approaching him while he’s drinking from the fountain. Santos grabbed the rear strap on the apron and pulled him, during which time the boy’s facial expression changes “as pressure is now being applied to his throat area by the strap on the apron,” the report said.
The boy then lost his balance and began to fall backward to the floor as Santos “continues to drag him by the apron strap,” the report said.
Police reported that a teacher who witnessed the incident appeared “perplexed” while another looked “shocked.” One of the teachers later told police that the incident looked worse on film than what she remembered.
During an interview with police, Santos told how she grabbed the apron string from the back and that “the last of the threads just let go.”
“Anybody who reads anything more into it I’m sorry to disappoint, but that is all it was,” she told police.
Police told Santos that the apron had nothing to do with the assault and that the video showed unprivileged bodily contact.
The suit, which references the assault several times, accuses the district and Santos of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It also accuses the district of negligence for allegedly failing to properly supervise Santos and breaching its fiduciary duty.
Superintendent McCoy said Tuesday that the school district had not been formally served with the suit and therefore hasn’t had an opportunity to thoroughly review the case.
“The matter was resolved in 2018 and the teacher is no longer an employee of the Raymond School District,” she said.
Santos said she couldn’t comment on the suit when reached by phone Tuesday.
The complaint filed in the criminal case said Santos knowingly caused unprivileged physical contact with the boy at school on May 18, 2018, by “yanking him by his clothing at the back of his neck causing him to (lose) his balance and fall to the ground.”
Raymond police initially brought the charge as a misdemeanor, but it was reduced to a violation-level offense. Police Chief Michael Labell said the change was made as part of a plea deal which protected the juvenile victim from having to testify.
Santos was given a $1,000 fine and a $240 penalty assessment. As part of the sentence, $750 of the fine and $180 of the penalty assessment were suspended.
She was also ordered to write an apology letter, which still hasn’t been provided, according to Jason Major, Bolton’s attorney.