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Hard Knocks: A Bayview Teacher Faces More Abuse Allegations 

Wednesday, Aug 15 2012
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At first, Francelle White didn't believe her daughter when the 5-year-old complained that her teacher was being "mean," yelling at her and stealing her Twinkies. Then one day, according to White, the little girl came home from Bret Harte Elementary in Bayview-Hunter's Point with tear-stained cheeks and a lump on her forehead. She said her teacher had slammed her head into a table.

"She spent the whole day crying," White says. "I wasn't notified at all."

San Francisco Unified School District settled with White last year, paying out more than $30,000 for the 2009 incident, including attorney fees and medical bills. The teacher, Deborah Fergin-Mavaega, 51, avoided criminal prosecution by completing a "pretrial diversion program" for first-time offenders.

Now, Fergin-Mavaega is facing new allegations that she was physically abusive. A lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court accuses the teacher of bruising a 4-year-old girl's arm when she "forcefully pushed" her to sit in a chair.

"I noticed [bruises] on her left arm," the girl's mother, Casandra Mancilla, wrote in a school complaint. "My daughter told me that her teacher ... had hurt her with her hands."

Cheryl Ruggiero, an attorney who has represented both mothers, called it "quite unusual" to have similar complaints against one teacher.

"They wanted to brush it up under the rug," White says. Court records show that both mothers complained that district officials did nothing to discipline Fergin-Mavaega. A district spokeswoman said Fergin-Mavaega, currently on administrative leave, will be transferred to another school this fall.

San Francisco police cited Fergin-Mavaega for criminal misdemeanor battery — a charge dropped in exchange for her completing the pretrial program. Police also investigated Mancilla's claims, but charges were never filed.

Fergin-Mavaega referred a request for comment to the district, which referred the request to court records, which show Fergin-Mavaega has refused to answer questions about the incident — citing her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself during a "pending criminal investigation." The school district has also requested that court proceedings be delayed "pending resolution of related criminal matters." Police say there is no pending criminal matter. According to Sgt. Michael Andraychak, officers consider the August 2011 case "inactive." In the prior case that did lead to a criminal charge, police noted that the girl had "light swelling" over her eye two days after her head hit the table.

Three years later, White said she's still disappointed that the district kept the teacher in the classroom. "I felt so strongly that Ms. Fergin should have been terminated because that's endangering kids — around someone with a temper like that, that's child endangerment."

About The Author

Stephanie Rice

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