2 fired after Lorain student was forced to eat from garbage can

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Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 3:09 PM EST
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LORAIN, Ohio (WOIO) - The superintendent for the Lorain City School District said the principal and a staff member involved in an incident with a fourth-grade student who was allegedly forced to eat from out of a trash will be fired.

District officials began investigating the incident earlier this month after the parent of the daughter informed Lorain City School District authorities that her child was forced to eat food she retrieved out of a cafeteria garbage can.

Superintendent Jeff Graham decided after reviewing evidence, which included video footage from the cafeteria, that it was his intention to fire principal Debra Pustulka and paraprofessional Monika Sommers-Fridenstine.

A statement from the Lorain City School District regarding the investigation was released on Thursday:

“District authorities were notified by a parent that her daughter was forced to retrieve and eat food from a cafeteria garbage can. Lorain City Schools responded swiftly by immediately removing the staff members in question from the building and placing them on administrative leave while the matter was investigated.

The findings of the investigation, which included cafeteria video footage, were the subject of a disciplinary hearing on December 13, 2021. After reviewing the evidence, Superintendent/CEO Dr. Jeff Graham reported to the Lorain Board of Education his intention to discharge both Principal Debra Pustulka and Paraprofessional Monika Sommers-Fridenstine.

Although the Board of Education has no authority to act on the report of the Superintendent due to HB 70 legislation, which removed the powers of a Board of Education in districts under academic distress, the Board voted to support the discharge of both staff members. A resolution to that effect was passed by the Board in a special meeting held this morning.

Dr. Graham has decided to discharge Ms. Sommers-Fridenstine effective today. It is unknown if she will appeal the decision pursuant to the labor contract governing the employment of paraprofessionals in the district.

Since Ms. Pustulka is an administrator she will be given a ten day notice as afforded by Ohio law within which she may appeal the decision to discharge her. However, Dr. Graham is removing her as principal effective immediately pursuant to HB 70 which allows the removal of an administrator at the discretion of the CEO.

Lorain City Schools Superintendent/CEO Jeff Graham has been in direct contact with the family since learning of the incident. As soon as the situation was confirmed he called the family to apologize on behalf of the district. He then met with the family to listen to their concerns to help address their needs moving forward.

“Any infringement upon the dignity and respect of our students will not be tolerated. 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.”

The district is in the process of identifying a new principal to provide the leadership, heart and judgment we expect for our schools.”

“We have phenomenal people doing great work in our schools each and every day,” Dr. Graham shared. “This incident in no way demonstrates who we are as a district, and we will not let the actions of two people define us when there are so many wonderful things happening in our classrooms, schools and community.”

A Cleveland-area attorney filed a civil rights lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on behalf of the Palm Elementary School student’s mother.

The mother claims in the lawsuit that her child did not like the waffles that were being served in the cafeteria, so she threw them into the garbage. A lunchroom employee then allegedly told her to grab them from the garbage can and made her eat the waffles in front of her other classmates.

The mother said her daughter became physically ill after eating the waffles.

Dr. Graham said the Lorain City School District is searching for a replacement principal.

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