The parents of two boys alleged to have been abused by a Redwood City special education teacher are expressing frustration over lack of information and the subsequent difficulty in offering the correct support for their children to recover, according to the parents and their attorneys.
Alexia Aliki Bogdis, 43, of Millbrae is charged with five counts of child cruelty and four counts of battery on school grounds — charges to which she pleaded not guilty this week. The victims in the criminal case are two autistic boys who were in Bogdis’ special education class at Roosevelt Elementary School.
For the parents, the case has been frustrating. The father of one boy, who is 5, described the situation as "a total nightmare.”
The parents have been offered little information about what their children may have experienced. Both boys have limited communication skills and the parents aren’t able to simply ask the children, which they say makes it difficult to address their needs. Sharing such details, however, could cause problems for the case, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti.
"It’s tragic that a little boy is abused and not able to speak up,” said attorney Todd Emanuel, who is representing the family of one of the boys.
Emanuel added that the boy appears to be physically OK but demonstrates behavior changes that "he has been harmed and has seen harm,” said Emanuel.
The district placed Bogdis on leave Feb. 1 after hearing allegations about her classroom conduct. She was arrested two days later. Bogdis, who is out on bail, is due back in court in May to set a jury trial date. She told reporters after this week’s arraignment that she, "never abused a child.”
Investigators believe Bogdis slapped a student, twisted a student’s wrist and kicked the back of a chair, causing a desk to move forward and strike a student. She is also accused of depriving a child of food and kicking a child in the stomach. Since then, the district conducted both an internal and independent investigation which showed six employees knew of the possible abuse but did not alert anyone as mandated by law. Those workers could theoretically be prosecuted for violating their duty as mandated reporters but it is more likely they will serve as witnesses in Bogdis’ prosecution.
"If at any time we have clear evidence that any other employee knows of child abuse, I will recommend strong disciplinary action,” said Superintendent Jan Christensen. "All employees sign a document when they are hired acknowledging their role as a mandated reporter if they suspect child abuse.”
All district employees, new and existing, will be required to participate in an online training course of the topic.
But the father of the 5-year-old boy said questions about the teacher’s behavior began well before an aide came forward. Their child has been at the Roosevelt program for more than two years. They noticed right away their son came home hungry, dehydrated, having not eaten provided food, and displaying odd behavior, said attorney Chris Dolan, who is representing the family.
The 5-year-old boy with limited verbal skills often mimics behavior — actions and emotions. He began to scream at himself and later displayed violent behavior toward his younger sister, said his father. The parents said they met with school and district officials multiple times only to be told each time that they were being overly sensitive.
Then, in early February, the family got a message on their home phone from the school district which simply said a teacher had been put on leave and was being investigated for allegations of abuse. The family had no idea their son might be involved until they listened to the next voicemail. The Redwood City Police Department had called wanting to talk with them about their son.
Details of what each child possibly experienced has not been openly shared with the family, they say.
For the district, the investigations focused on proper reporting procedures, said Christensen. Information from the police investigation is now at the District Attorney’s Office. Releasing such details could influence witnesses and create problems for the case against Bogdis, explained Guidotti, who admitted the situation is a tough one.
Both families expressed a feeling of betrayal. Their children were allowed to be brought back to an environment that wasn’t safe. Both boys are struggling behaviorally, according to the families.
Christensen said the district recently hired a special education consultant to work with the department on a variety of issues including determining the best placement for the children.
Moving forward, the families have put a focus on the issue of reporting in hopes of avoiding a similar situation being repeated.
"How would you feel if that was your child, your brother or sister, and they were scared and they were hurt? And, they couldn’t even say, ‘Don’t send me to school because I’m afraid of being hurt?’” said the father of the 5-year-old boy. "The weakest of weak were being picked on.”
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.