Concerns about understaffing and possible child abuse at the Child and Family Studies Center Infant Program led a parent to lodge a complaint with campus police last week.
Russell Greene, chief investigator of Johnnie Cochran Law Offices, issued a complaint to CSUN police March 7 after he said he witnessed Wendy Nicola, a teacher of the infant program, physically and verbally abuse three of the four infants at the school March 6. He said he did not see Nicola touch his daughter, who was the only girl.
“The woman just sounded crazy,” he said. “She was manhandling those kids. It was disturbing.”
Greene said that Lucy Chakerian, on-site supervisor of the school, told him Nicola did not have a break all day while she was caring for the four infants.
Chakerian tried to contact Jerry-Ann Harrel-Smith, director of CFSC, to tell her the school was understaffed. Harrel-Smith, however, did not return her calls, he said.
Harrel-Smith said the university told her she could not comment on the incident.
“It is unacceptable,” Greene said. “This is supposed to be the best program of all Northridge. She lost it that day because Northridge did not provide her with help.”
John Chandler, CSUN spokesperson, said the university is reviewing the lab school’s operations, its staffing and compliance with state law. The lab school is closed until further notice.
“We are reviewing staffing and operational issues,” he said.
The Family and Consumer Sciences Department, which operates the infant program, declined to comment on the incident.
Chakerian did not return several messages left on her voicemail seeking information on the incident.
Nicola, 63, who worked at the infant program for about a year, was arrested and released in connection with a misdemeanor battery March 8 after police interviewed parents and staff at the school and found the information corroborated with Greene’s formal complaint, according to police reports.
“We believed it to be a battery situation involving a child,” said Anne Glavin, CSUN police chief.
The Los Angeles County City Attorney’s Office will determine whether to prosecute Nicola, according to her attorney Jerry Valance.
A hearing will likely be held in early April, he said.
Greene said the City Attorney’s Office has not contacted him to testify at the hearing.
“I am the best witness,” he said. “I am a criminal investigator.”
Nicola and Chakerian are on paid administrative leave while university officials investigate the operations of the infant/toddler program, Chandler said.
“The university is trying to water down the facts,” Greene said.
He said the children were not touched roughly as the university first reported, adding that the children were abused.
In response to Greene’s claim, Chandler said the university accurately reported the outcome of the case.
“If the university doesn’t do anything about lab school, shame on them,” Greene said.
Prior to enrolling his daughter in at the school, his son was enrolled in the program as an infant. Greene said he specifically chose the lab school infant program for his daughter since he had an excellent experience with the program when his son was enrolled.
“You really hope you pick a wonderful place that is safe for your kids,” he said.
Greene said he paid $1,000 a month for his daughter’s childcare at the school.
“We are paying top dollar,” he said. “We expected quality care.”
On March 6, it was Greene’s daughters first whole day at the school, after she completed a transition stage the school requires, he said.
At about 2:20 p.m., Greene said he went to the school to pick up his daughter. When Greene arrived to the school earlier than expected, he said decided to look at his daughter through a two-way mirror in the school’s observation room – a room designed for parents to view and hear their children interactions with the other infants – that looks into the infant room.
He said the room was dark, but light from an open door fell into the room, he stepped out of the room. When he then heard a loud child’s cry, he said reentered the room, and heard Nicola grind her teeth as she said, “Be quiet. Go to sleep. You’ve been crying all day.”
He said his daughter and another child were in cribs, one child was on the room’s floor and Nicola was rocking the other child in her arms.
Greene said he heard Nicola yell at a child on the floor, as put the child in her arms in the crib. Nicola picked up the child off the floor and slammed the child down on the crib’s padding, he alleged.
“I could hear the child being pushed into the mat through the microphone,” Greene said. “That was startling because you could hear it through the loud speaker.”
He said Nicola aggressively forced the child to lay down in the crib.
Nicola declined to comment, but referred the media to speak to her lawyer. She has previously said the allegations were false.
“We would have never have pulled our daughter out of the program, if I didn’t see that,” he said.
Greene said he called a friend on his cell phone to call an administrator in the lab school’s office while he watched Nicola.
“For the life of me, I can’t tell you why she picked on the other kids, and not on my child,” he said.
Greene said Nicola then moved one of the cribs, which was on rollers, into a storage room.
“They gotta’ know they are being watched through the observation room,” he said.
He alleged that a phone in the infant room rang several times and Nicola ignored the calls.
Chakerian walked into the room shortly after the phone stopped ringing, he said, and observed Nicola with the children.
Greene said he believed someone was trying to tip Nicola that he was watching from the observation room.
He said Chakerian looked as though she was she in disbelief and after observing at Nicola a few minutes she went into the room to relieve her.
“Wendy saw me and Lucy, and looked like a ghost,” Greene said. “She had a blank stare on her face.”
Nicola tried to assure him everything was OK, he said.
When he handed his daughter to him, Greene said fecal matter was on her back. He said Nicola immediately grabbed his daughter, changed her clothing and put the clothing in a bag. Greene said Nicola claimed his daughter had diarrhea.
‘My baby had (feces) all over her back,” he alleged. “She was neglected.”
Greene’s wife had changed his daughter’s diaper twice prior to taking her to the school, he said, and did not see signs of diarrhea.
He said he told Chakerian that Nicola mistreated the children and should not work around the infants.
“I (told) Lucy she’s gotta’ go,” Greene said. “She was out of control.”
He said Chakerian knew he was upset.
“I knew the allegations that were about to be made were very serious when I saw what was going on,” Greene said.
He said the following day Greene’s wife arrived at the school to pick up his daughter’s belongings, while he filed a complaint with CSUN police to arrest Nicola with the abuse he said he witnessed.
Greene said he told police he saw Nicola physically and verbally abuse the infants. Police requested to see Greene’s daughter’s fecal-stained clothing, he said.
Charkerian pleaded with Greene’s wife to speak to Nicola at the school, he said.
Greene said Nicola told his wife that she put the child in the storage room because it was hot in the room and believed it would be cooler in the storage room. He said Nicola told his wife that the children were unruly and need to be contained.
“She didn’t deny putting the kid in the storage room,” Greene said. “Wendy was justifying her behavior.
He said he filed the complaint to CSUN police because he was worried about the other infants.
“What happened on those other days that I wasn’t there?’ Greene said. “(The parents) would have wanted
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