After an internal investigation, the district released surveillance video of the incident and fired a paraprofessional employee and principal.
LORAIN, Ohio — Security footage released by Lorain City Schools appears to confirm claims that a 9-year-old girl was forced to eat food she had thrown in the trash.
In December, the student’s family filed a federal civil lawsuit against the district, claiming a paraprofessional staff member at Palm Elementary School fished a waffle out of a trash can after the child threw it out and made her eat it, reports Cleveland 19.
The employee, identified as Monika Sommers-Fridenstine, was fired following an internal investigation. According to the district’s findings, the student threw away a packaged food item in front of Sommers-Fridenstine and principal Debra Pustulka. Sommers-Fridenstine immediately removed the item from the trash, wiped it off, and gave it back to the student. The student then opened the package and ate it. Pustulka received a complaint from the parent but failed to take appropriate action. She was also fired as a result.
The district did not confirm the family’s allegations that the girl was forced to eat it. However, the video, released Wednesday, shows an employee sitting beside the girl as she ate the food.
“It’s humiliating, it’s disgraceful, and it’s unacceptable,” said Jared Klebanow, the family’s attorney. “Every citizen, including children, has the right to bodily integrity… the child victim had her constitutional rights violated by this educator. This is an educator hired to protect our children, not to degrade them and humiliate them.”
Lorain City Schools Superintendent and CEO Dr. Jeff Graham reached out to the girl’s family to apologize on behalf of the district, according to WKYC.
“Any infringement upon the dignity and respect of our students will not be tolerated,” Graham wrote in a public statement. “Our students deserve staff members who are able to make good decisions in all situations — and any staff member who is unable to deliver on that promise is unwelcome in our schools.”
LaTosha Williams, the girl’s mother, claims her daughter became ill after eating the food, resulting in her losing her job due to missed work.
The lawsuit is seeking an admission of wrongdoing, a collaborative effort to prevent similar incidents, and an undetermined amount of money. The lawsuit also says the child has had to undergo mental health treatment in the weeks since the incident.
“It literally flipped my whole family upside down,” Williams said in a December interview. “She has changed at home. She doesn’t act the same. She doesn’t even want to go to school.”