Ex-principal charged with willful cruelty after “disturbing altercation” with student

Brian Vollhardt is seen on video shoving a California elementary school student, officials say.

An ex-principal seen on video aggressively shoving an elementary school student to a cafeteria floor has been charged with willful cruelty to a minor, Fresno USD leaders and local authorities say.

The video (see below) shows the former principal, Brian Vollhardt, and staff members talking to an “upset student” during breakfast at Wolters Elementary School in Fresno on June 7, California, Fresno USD Superintendent Bob Nelson said.

“Instead of de-escalating the situation, which is what we would expect of an educator in our system, the former principal chose to aggressively shove the student down,” Nelson said at a Sept. 8 press conference as the video was released. “There is no excuse for repugnant behavior such as this—I was trying to find the adjective to describe it, which was difficult.”

The student, who is autistic according to multiple reports, is physically OK and has been receiving social-emotional counseling since he was shoved, said Nelson, who also acknowledged the racial overtones of the “disturbing altercation” even though there is no evidence that the incident was racially motivated.

“We are not blind to the fact that racial dynamics are always present,” he said. “We are also not blind to the fact that seeing this footage of a white principal aggressively shoving down a young African American boy is going to be triggering and potentially traumatizing, especially for our African American community.”

Vollhardt resigned shortly after the incident as the district was completing its investigation and initiating the disciplinary process, Nelson said. Not long after that, in an unusual twist, Vollhardt got a vice principal’s job at Tranquillity High School in Golden Plains USD, a rural district outside Fresno, Newsweek reported. He has been placed on leave since the video was released last week, Golden Plains USD Superintendent Martín Macías said on his district’s website.

Vollhardt was charged last week with “willful cruelty to a minor,” a misdemeanor, even though the incident was reported to local police on June 9. Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama blamed systemic failures within his department for the delay in bringing the charge.

Fresno USD is providing counseling and other social-emotional support to any students and families who are disturbed by the footage.

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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