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Fresno Unified releases video showing principal assaulting special needs student

A video released by the Fresno Unified School District showing a principal shoving a special needs student to the ground over the summer has led to the now-resigned employee being charged with willful cruelty to a minor. 

Brian Vollhardt, the former principal of Wolters Elementary School in northeast Fresno, shoved the student during breakfast time on June 7, Fresno police and FUSD officials told reporters during a news conference on Thursday.

Superintendent Bob Nelson called the behavior “repugnant.”

“Instead of de-escalating the situation, which is what we expect of an educator in our system, the former principal chooses to aggressively shove the student down instead,” he said.

Nelson said Vollhardt reported the incident a day later, and after the district started the discipline process, he resigned. He has since taken a job at Tranquillity High School in the Golden Plains Unified School District, ABC30 reported. Vollhardt’s name appears on the California Department of Education website as vice principal of the school.

Nelson said the incident was reported to all relevant state agencies, but he does not believe Vollhardt’s new employer called FUSD as a check before hiring him.

Nelson said the boy was not physically hurt at the time and was provided with “the necessary socio-emotional supports” since then. Both the staff members who were in the cafeteria at the time and the boy’s guardians reported the incident, and a police report was made June 9, two days later.

Police Chief Paco Balderrama told reporters he only learned of the incident two days ago, after a Fresno Bee reporter asked for information on the case.

“That same afternoon, I made sure the case was handed over to the district attorney’s office, ” Balderrama said. Vollhardt, 50, was charged on Wednesday with cruelty to a child by endangering health, a misdemeanor.

The criminal complaint from the district attorney’s office lists the boy’s age as 11.

“It was shocking to me,” said Balderrama, who said he has a son similar in age to the boy in the video. “There’s no justification whatsoever for the actions the principal took.”

The chief said there were “system failures” in how long it took to get to his attention.

“We have since gone back and looked at our process on how these types of cases are handled,” he said, “and as police chief, I want to be notified anytime there’s an assault this serious occurring in any one of our schools. That didn’t happen in this case.” 

Nelson, who leads the state’s third-largest district, said he would be remiss to not mention the dynamic of race in the video. Vollhardt is white, and the boy is African American, he said.

“While there’s been zero information that leads us to believe that this was a racially motivated altercation, we are not blind to the fact that racial dynamics are always present.”

He said the video could be traumatizing, and he urged students, parents and staff to reach out to the school for support.

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