Fallon aide to be tried in abuse of students
FALLON – A Fallon teacher’s aide will be tried on charges that she abused some of her handicapped students, a judge determined Thursday.
Lorette Schmelz, 47, was bound over on six counts of child abuse by Fallon Justice of the Peace Mike Richards following a preliminary hearing.
“It appears to me the testimony has proven crimes may have taken place,” Richards said.
According to court records, co-workers at the school reported, among other allegations, that between September 2009 and January 2010 Schmelz pinched a child until he screamed; bent a student’s finger backward; bent a student’s hand to the wrist in a painful manner and twisted students’ arms.
Schmelz, who was an instructional aide in a special needs class at Numa Elementary School, has been suspended from her position pending the outcome of the investigation. Several students in Schmelz’s class have autism and Down syndrome and lack the ability to speak.
Churchill County Deputy District Attorney Craig Mingay called four witnesses – all of them school employees – to describe alleged abuse by Schmelz.
Special-education teacher Tammy Keener testified Schmelz pushed a student “as hard as she could” because the student didn’t move when asked. Keener said the incident happened on Jan. 22, the day a formal complaint was made about Schmelz to the school principal.
Substitute teacher Denise Grimes said Schmelz told her there was a way to pinch a child without leaving a mark.
Aide Erika Nettenstrom testified she witnessed Schmelz push a rolling chair into a table, causing the table to strike a student who had his mouth on the edge of it. Nettenstrom also described an incident where she heard a child scream, and when she looked, she allegedly saw Schmelz’s hand on the girl’s inner thigh.
Aide Jill Taylor testified Schmelz told another aide to “watch this,” then, while a student had his head resting on a chair seat, Schmelz allegedly pulled the chair out causing the student’s head to hit the floor.
When asked why the alleged abuse wasn’t reported when it happened, Taylor said she was scared of Schmelz.
“She knew I was afraid of her,” Taylor said. “She’s a scary person.”
Schmelz’s attorney John Oakes suggested the abuse allegations came about as retaliation against Schmelz because she had complained to school officials that during school hours the women were making long phone calls, text messaging, being habitually late, having private conversations and being late to retrieve children from the bus.
He said the child abuse allegations against Schmelz came just hours after Schmelz complained about them.
Schmelz did not testify.
She will be arraigned in District Court on Sept. 14.