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Santa Rosa teacher charged with striking special education student

Michael Delgado, 16, right, smiles after finishing his homework, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 with the help of his mother Jeannie and his father Manuel at their home in Santa Rosa.

(Kent Porter / Press Democrat)
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 5:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 7:53 a.m.

An honored Santa Rosa High School teacher has been removed from the classroom, days after being charged over accusations he struck a special education student in the head on multiple occasions last year.

Willie Swindle, 67, was removed from his classroom and placed on paid administrative leave March 5 after being charged Feb. 28, said Mark Klick, assistant superintendent of human resources for Santa Rosa City Schools.

"It is not one of the ed code violations that requires us to do so," Klick said when asked why Swindle was not removed from the classroom immediately. "It is what the district believes is in the best interest of all."

A decision on whether Swindle will return is "pending the outcome of the situation," Klick said.

Swindle faces three counts of misdemeanor child endangerment. His first court date is Thursday.

Swindle is accused of striking Michael Delgado, a student in his special education classroom who was 15 at the time, in three incidents outlined in court documents.

The district has previously acknowledged that Swindle pinched or pulled Delgado's ear. Allegations the teacher took Delgado into the hall and clapped him on the head were unsubstantiated, according to the district investigation. Interviews conducted cited witnesses who said Swindle would "clap Michael on both cheeks with his open palm" while in the classroom.

Delgado is developmentally delayed and has a "very low" IQ, according to school records.

Court documents indicate the alleged incidents occurred between Nov. 1, 2011, and March 1, 2012.

Reached by phone while driving Friday, Swindle declined to comment.

"I'm satisfied that the D.A. filed charges, yes," said Michael Delgado's father, Manuel. "That is all we've wanted."

"Now, why didn't they do that a year ago?" he said.

Manuel Delgado declined to comment on whether the family would seek financial compensation.

"That is going to be up to my attorney to talk to you about," he said.

An earlier deal between the family and Sonoma County's largest school district was scuttled and the Delgado family discontinued work with Santa Rosa-based attorney Michael Fiumara. San Jose-based attorney Jennifer McCallister is now working with the family, according to Manuel Delgado.

Police officers assigned to the Mendocino Avenue campus under the school resource officer program initially examined allegations that Swindle struck Michael Delgado during the spring semester. There was not sufficient evidence at that point to file a complaint, according to police.

A follow-up investigation by the school district uncovered additional information that prompted the Police Department to launch a second inquiry.

Michael Delgado, now 16, is in a different classroom but remains a student at Santa Rosa High School and is thriving, Manuel Delgado said.

Swindle was Santa Rosa High's nominee for California League of High Schools Educator of the Year for Region One in 2012, before the allegations emerged. In 2006, he was nominated by the school for the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year award.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.

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