In-depth: Former Tobinworld teacher’s aides speak about their experiences at the school after seeing viral video of alleged abuse


ANTIOCH (KRON) — A viral video gives a shocking glimpse inside an Antioch special needs school.

The video shows a 9-year-old boy being slapped and tackled by a teacher’s aide earlier this year, as others looked on and laugh.

But is this incident an aberration or part of a larger pattern of abuse?

“I was appalled by it. It was very disturbing,” former aide Vanessa Depina said.

“She was out of line…way out of line,” said a second former aide who did not give his name to KRON.

“Pretty intense. I mean it was very shocking to see,” a third former aide Nic Aldrete said.

“Shocked maybe to the extent of intensity in the video, but definitely not surprised because working at Tobinworld, you do see that there are certain staff that take things way overboard,” said a fourth former aide Ayesha Viaan.

In-depth: More allegations of abuse at Tobinworld surface

Four former Tobinworld teacher’s aides agreed to come forward and talk about their experiences at the Antioch Tobinworld campuses after seeing the viral video.

They said they never saw anything as extreme as what was caught by a cellphone camera.

But they all said they’ve seen other Tobinworld staff abuse their power over students.

“I’ve seen staff pluck students in the head if they haven’t gotten something right on their worksheet,” former aide Viaan said. “I’ve seen staff contain students just because the student was cussing at them, not because the student was physically a threat to anyone around them or even to themselves. But just because the staff was fed up.”

One of the women demonstrated to KRON a kind of containment hold on her former co-worker. State law allows school staff to pin students down if they are a threat to themselves or others until they calm down.

But the former Tobinworld aides KRON spoke to say they’ve seen kids contained for minor infractions.

“If they’re (the student) talking crazy to you, ‘put them down on the ground.’ If they look like they’re challenging you, ‘put them down on the ground.’ If they’re looking at you crazy and you tell them to stop, ‘put them down on the ground.’ It was just, that was the solution for everything,” Viaan said.

“They would have like six staff on one student to the point where it was way out of hand,” Depina said. “If you need that many staff, maybe the police need to be called….Having a student down on the ground for sometimes all day like three, four hours…switching out staff.”

In the video, you can see an aide throw what looks like paper clips at the boy.

The former Tobinworld employees said at times they have seen other staffers instigate students to make them act out, giving staff an excuse to use force.

“Their pride gets hurt…they get annoyed or they get fed up with the kids…or (they) just feel like taking someone down,” the third aide Aldrete said.

These aides all parted ways with the school for different reasons a few years ago, not all of them left voluntarily.

Some said they felt repercussions for not using enough hands-on discipline.

“I rarely contained students. I was called into the office saying that surely you can’t be doing your job properly if you never have to contain a student,” Viaan said.

Judy Weber, the executive director of Tobinworld, chose not to be interviewed.

Instead, she reacted to these allegations in a written statement:

“My life’s mission is to improve specialized education and increase access for children who desperately need our care, and scores of others at Tobinworld have the same goal. Staff must complete non-violent Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) training by a certified trainer, which is approved by the California Department of Education. Staff members are allowed to use approved CPI techniques but only when the student is clearly endangering him or herself, other students or staff members.

On Wednesday, you’ll hear about the connections between the Tobinworld schools and a controversial doctor that sparked a state investigation.

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