A CSUN employee of the campus Child and Family Studies Center Infant/Toddlers School was arrested and released Tuesday in connection with an incident involving the rough treatment of a child, according to police officials.
The woman, identified as Wendy Elizabeth Nicola, 62, teacher for the Lab School Infant program, was taken by CSUN police to the Los Angeles Police Department Valley Jail in Van Nuys, said Christina Villalobos, CSUN Police Department spokesperson. Nicola was booked in connection with a misdemeanor battery on a person and released Tuesday night.
Under California penal code, battery is defined as willful and unlawful use of force on another person. A misdemeanor battery is punishable by both a $2,000 fine or up to six months in prison.
Police officials said CSUN police were responding to a tip received from the school early Tuesday morning. They said that a father of a child who attends the school witnessed Nicola, who has worked at the infant program at the school for about a year, roughly handle a child. The child had no visible indications of injury, police officials said.
The father initially complained to lab school officials March 6 that he observed Nicola roughly handle a child as he was picking up his child, Villalobos said. He then filed a complaint with CSUN police early Tuesday morning, and officers responded to the tip, she said.
CSUN police arrived at the school before noon to begin the investigation. Police interviewed and questioned Nicola, interns and staff members, Villalobos said.
Police gathered information, from the interviews, she said, adding it corroborated with the informant’s complaints, and police arrested Nicola.
The father requested a citizen’s arrest from the CSUN Police Department, Villalobos said. Since he observed the activity but could physically arrest Nicola, he requested a police officer to arrest her, she said.
“These type of allegations are taken very seriously,” Villalobos said. “We will stay at (the scene) until the investigation is completed.”
She said Nicola was at the school Tuesday morning, though not in the same room with children.
Villalobos said Nicola was put in an area where she was monitored by police officers.
CSUN Police Chief Anne Glavin, who was at the scene, declined to comment.
The school is part of the Family Consumer Sciences Department of the College of Health and Human Development, and is designed for students to observe and care for children ranging from four to 18 months.
The children in the school range from four to 18 months, John Chandler, CSUN spokesperson.
The school is separated into two programs: a toddler program and an infant program in which four infants are enrolled. The school is located on Plummer Street and Darby Avenue.
Kayla Roy, senior child development major, said interns are required to work with children, such as teacher assistants in a classroom, and work at the lab school six hours a week.
“We have become really close to the kids,” she said.
Denise Erickson, senior child development major, said some CSUN faculty use the facility, and the school is open to the community.
“We were surprised to see police officers at the (school),” she said. “We were driving by and saw what was happening and wanted to know what was going on.”
A dozen children were at the school late Monday afternoon during the time of the incident, Chandler said.
The university called each of the children’s parents and informed them the police investigation, asking that they pick up their children, he said.
Several children were at the school under faculty supervision Tuesday afternoon, he said.
The children could be heard crying from the street.
A parent, who arrived to pick up her child, cried out to police, “Where is he? Is he OK?”
Police required parents to show identification to pick up their children.
Jerry Ann Harrel-Smith, director of CFSC, told parents who arrived at the school to pick up their child, and that the Associated Students Children’s Center across the street from the school was available for their use until the police investigation was completed.
Arlene Rhine, director of the Children’s Center, was asked by police to provide a teacher to take care of the children.
She said the school and the Children’s Center are not related facilities.
“We have several highly qualified teachers to take care of the children,” she said.
Several parents exiting the lab school, who asked to remain anonymous, said the school provided excellent services.
The school will be closed until the police investigation is completed, Chandler said.
Veronica Rocha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.