A Fairfax County school principal, a former teacher and a former teacher’s aide are all facing charges of child abuse and failing to report the abuse for incidents involving non-verbal special needs children.
The three worked at Freedom Hill Elementary.
A grand jury indicted Principal Scott Bloom on a charge of failure to report child abuse.
Teacher Cylmeera Gastav and her assistant Cecelia Benavides are charged with cruelty and injuries to children and assault and battery. Benavides faces 12 counts of misdemeanor assault. The women worked in what’s known as an IDS classroom, working with students who have severe intellectual disabilities.
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Detectives began their investigation in Sept. 2019 when a teacher noticed bruising on a student and contacted Child Protective Services.
In a search warrant affidavit, Fairfax County police said they learned of the alleged incidents of physical abuse in September 2019. A public health attendant in the school reported the assaults, which she says began in February 2019 and continued into this school year. She kept a journal that detailed incidents of hitting, pushing, dragging and slapping the disabled students.
The employee reported her concerns to Bloom. Bloom spoke with Gastav, but he did not notify law enforcement. An IDS teacher also observed and even videotaped some of the alleged abuse by Benavides. Court documents report one video shows Benavides walking up to a student and hitting him with her right forearm in the chest. The student fell to the ground. Another video shows Benavides shoving a rolling chair into a student seated on the ground. The detective investigating the allegations reported the public health attendant witnessed a conversation in April 2019 in which Gastav told Benavides to deny any allegations she might be questioned about.
Benavides was interviewed by police on Sept. 24, according to the police affidavit. She reportedly denied most of the allegations but did admit to dragging a student across the floor by his foot and to grabbing students inappropriately. She told police she had difficulty controlling a particular student and admitted she may have made mistakes.
The search warrant affidavit seeks access to all the employees’ Fairfax County Schools email accounts.
Bloom was transferred to Haycock Elementary at the start of the 2019-20 school year, but he was suddenly placed on leave Sept. 26. He remains on paid administrative leave. Gastav and Benavides have left the school system.