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Down Syndrome Association of Delaware issues statement in response to Cape Henlopen assault

The Down Syndrome Association of Delaware has issued a statement and is assisting the family of the eight-year-old girl who was assaulted by a bus aide in the Cape Henlopen School District.

“Recently the Down Syndrome Association of Delaware (DSA of DE) became notified of an incident regarding alleged abuse of an 8-year-old girl with Down syndrome in Cape Henlopen School District. Our organization has been in direct communication with the child’s family and is currently providing support through this extremely difficult situation,” Lauren Camp Gates, Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Association of Delaware stated. “The DSA of DE holds a formal partnership with the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children since 2018. As stated in our Child Protection Policy, we are devoted to the safety of individuals with Down syndrome. We understand that this incident poses great concern to many of our families, particularly those who have individuals in this school district.”

The organization also linked to our full report in their statement where earlier this week we got a chance to sit down with the father of the little girl who was assaulted.

TV Delmarva News Director Rob Petree was able to sit down over the weekend with Ryan Pickett who addressed the Cape Henlopen School Board on Thursday, April 28 where he spoke about an incident that occurred in January on a school bus involving his daughter who has down syndrome.

Pickett tells us how he and his wife didn’t learn about what happened until two weeks after the incident occurred by Delaware State Police.

“It happened on January 21, my wife got a phone call from the State Police Resource Officer telling us that there had been an incident on the 21st, which was two weeks before,” Pickett tells our news department. “We immediately wanted to find out what happened, so that was a Friday afternoon and I, over the weekend, left a message with the Superintendent asking to speak with him regarding this.”

All requests to meet with Cape Henlopen School District Superintendent Bob Fulton went ignored, according to Pickett who said he was finally able to meet with two other district officials who allowed he and his wife to review what happened through the school bus surveillance footage.

The severity of what happened didn’t really sink in until Pickett and his wife viewed the video footage from the bus that allegedly shows the aide punch their eight-year-old daughter twice in the head, all the while screaming profanities.

“The video shows her punching our daughter in the head twice,” Pickett stated. “Also, on top of it, they’re saying from the district that they can’t hear what the woman is saying, and that the bus driver didn’t know, but from the video and us watching the video, and I’m confident when you watch the video you’ll hear the same thing, you can hear very clearly what the lady is saying. She’s verbally assaulting our daughter and yelling at her.”

After it was clear Superintendent Bob Fulton would not meet with the family, Pickett took his concerns to the Cape Henlopen School Board. He was cut off by Board President Dr. Alison Myers who said “sir, that’s your three minutes. Mr. Pickett, that’s your three minutes” to which Pickett responded by saying “I can finish here or with the local news” to which Dr. Myers responded by saying “that’s what you’re going to have to do sir, three minutes is all you have.”

Interestingly enough, Dr. Myers, according to her biography on the Cape Henlopen School District website, is a former special education teacher. TV Delmarva’s Rob Petree reached out to Dr. Myers in an email:

‘You cut him off right at 3 minutes, when the board can and has in the past extended time for sensitive issues like this, but yet you cut him off and were entirely unsympathetic to the issue he and his family are facing due to a lack of due diligence on the part of the school district. Seeing as you are a former special education teacher, how do you justify how you treated Mr. Pickett?‘

We have yet to receive a response from Dr. Myers.

Pickett says he received a plethora of praise for his restraint at the callous way the board treated him, but the issue dives much deeper than that and is deeply concerning.

“It’s funny, I’m getting a lot of respect for my restraint, and I am naturally a very mild-mannered person, anybody who knows me would probably say that, but I was in my seat and there’s a couple times you can hear me yelling and her saying ‘sir’ and the plan with all of this was not to make this some big known thing,” Pickett stressed. “When we originally went to the school district, we wanted help for our daughter and we wanted to make sure that this never happened again, we gave them time to do it, and the district failed on all accounts.”

Pickett, rightfully upset as he reflected on what transpired, questioned the moral and ethics of the school board as a result of how he was treated, specifically Dr. Alison Myers.

“They proved that they’re more interested in securing their six figure jobs than they are protecting the children that they’re mandated to protect,” Pickett said. “When I began the speech, I was pretty calm, I think I even joked with them in the very beginning, but this is a situation that is very troubling as a parent. Every time I talk about it, it reminds me that my child was punched by a member of the Cape Henlopen School District, and they’re doing nothing about it. So, to be cut off by a woman with a special education background, a woman who has her own children, and I’m sure she’s a wonderful mother, but she has proven that she doesn’t care about my kids and that tells me that she’s probably not in the position that she needs to be in.”

Pickett and his family are calling on the school board to investigate the incident and find out if this happened to their daughter more than the one time they’re aware of, and if the aide abused other children. So far, the district has refused to say whether or not they’re investigating.

We reached out to the Cape Henlopen School District and were issued the following response from Communications Coordinator, Stephanie DeMalto:

“In response to your May 13, 2022 email, you have requested information pertaining to the conduct of a former employee and related matters. We take the safety of all of our students very seriously and hold all of our employees to the highest of standards. The individual involved is no longer an employee of the District. Under Delaware law, even former employees have privacy rights, and thus we cannot provide further comment.“

In a follow-up response, we formally requested an interview with Superintendent Bob Fulton and are awaiting a response.

Delaware State Police released the identity of the bus aide who was arrested and charged in connection with the incident.

According to the Delaware State Police Department, the incident occurred on January 21, 2022 when Clar Ellen Branca, a now former bus monitor for the Cape Henlopen School District, struck an eight-year-old girl in the head on a school bus.

A warrant for Branca’s arrest was drafted on March 18 after the school resource officer at Milton Elementary School where the student attends reviewed the case with the Attorney General’s Office.

Branca turned herself in to State Police on March 21 and was charged with Offensive Touching and Endangering the Welfare of a Child, both misdemeanors. The case is still pending adjudication at this time.

This remains a developing story that TV Delmarva continues to investigate.

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