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Jen Schwartz, a parent of a special needs child and a teacher at Pioneer Elementary School, voices her concerns to board members at a Brentwood Union School District school board meeting Jan. 23, 2013. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

A group of parents is demanding major reform in the Brentwood Union School District, including the removal of Brentwood Superintendent Merrill Grant and details from an outside investigation into a recent child abuse settlement.

BUSD Concerned Parents and Teachers formed a little more than a week ago, and it has already garnered nearly 300 "likes" on a Facebook page. Last week, the parents started gathering online signatures from local residents on a petition calling for the dismissal of Grant by the Brentwood school board.

Many local parents have expressed outrage over the district's handling of Brentwood special education teacher Dina Holder, who was convicted of child abuse for throwing a 5-year-old autistic child onto a classroom floor and kicking him in front of witnesses two years ago. The victim's family was awarded a $950,000 settlement from the district.

"The parents see this issue with clarity. It is a black-and-white issue," Loma Vista Elementary School parent Christina Bell said. "(District personnel) have lost their way."

This growing parent group includes those whose children were students in Holder's classroom at Loma Vista, which is where the incident happened. As they continue to learn about more incidents surrounding Holder's class, the parents said they want answers and action to remove Grant by Feb. 15 or they will protest and host sick-outs by keeping their children home from school in large numbers.

"We were betrayed on so many levels," Bell said. "There needs to be change. We are not going anywhere. It is my impression that our community is united in the belief that Merrill Grant needs to go."


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The group noted that there are many teachers and staff in the district who are caring and dedicated educators, and they are also deeply affected by this situation.

"The school district is hurting right now," said Stephanie Stewart, whose son spent two years in Holder's class.

Grant issued a public statement on Jan. 29 but refused to comment for this story.

"It is my hope that by listening to each other and understanding the issues that lie beneath this case, we may be able to work together toward better protecting our children," he wrote.

Brentwood school board member Heather Partida said it may appear that the board is not resolving these issues quickly enough, but it is working to get all of the details in order to make informed decisions and ensure that this never happens again. Last week, they met with an independent counsel for the first time, Partida said, noting that she thinks about what happened every day.

"Transparency is going to be a big part of this," Partida said. "This community has lost trust with the board and administration. I am going to do everything I can to earn it back."

Loma Vista parent Jana Aubert said she has had many positive experiences with Brentwood teachers, but those involved in this matter did not advocate for children by not firing Holder sooner and not putting in better safeguards immediately.

"You just failed at the most basic level," she said. "I'm disappointed in their ethics and morals."

The vocal parents are also calling for a stronger parent notification system and a special needs advocate to sit on the school board as a nonvoting member.

School board President Carlos Sanabria said that there will be a report from the independent counsel at the Feb. 13 board meeting and that the counsel is working for the board and not for Grant.

"If we have lost sight of some things, we need to look across the district," Sanabria said. "We have worked to keep our special ed local. We have to ramp up a lot of our efforts. There are a wide range of needs."

Reach Paula King at 925-779-7174.

Parent GROUP
The next Brentwood school board meeting will bet at 6 p.m. on Feb. 13 in the District Service Center, 255 Guthrie Lane, Brentwood. To check out BUSD Concerned Parents and Teachers on Facebook, go to www.facebook.com/busdconcernedparentsandteachers.