Gilbert Unified School District officials were told within weeks of hiring Indira Dias that she was yanking and shoving her autistic students, and publicly berating her four aides.
In just four months, the Finley Farms Elementary School teacher amassed a personnel file an inch thick with incident reports and searing complaints from teacher aides, fellow teachers, the school psychologist and parents. They warn of imminent danger to children and staff members, detail Dias’ inability to do the most basic parts of her job, and beg district officials to do something.
Two of Dias’ aides were gone within six weeks and a third was threatening to leave, but not before filing weekly reports that detailed how the classroom and the students were spiraling out of control.
"I will tell you now that I can only see it getting worse and possibly ending in a tragic situation that will cause much undue stress and pain," the aide wrote in an Oct. 23 e-mail to principal John Maas.
"I do believe action must be taken immediately in order to ensure that no more harm befalls any child or adult."
Still, Dias remained the lead teacher of five autistic third- and fourth-graders until January, when she was reassigned as a special-education aide and then later suspended by the district.
Dias is the third East Valley teacher to be suspended in recent weeks in connection with abuse accusations.
The Scottsdale Unified School District governing board is moving to fire Cherokee Elementary School teacher David Renaud, who is accused of sexually molesting his students, and the Higley Unified School District on Friday suspended a high school choir teacher after a 16-yearold student’s parents accused him of fathering the girl’s baby.
Dias, 53, was suspended with pay Jan. 15 after a California mother led Maas to state records showing that Dias had admitted harming children in her care and had been banned from working in California licensed facilities.
Dias could not be reached for comment. Maas referred questions to district spokeswoman Dianne Bowers.
"What you have to look at here is that the district was responding right away," Bowers said Wednesday. "There was no evidence or even any allegation of physical injury to a child."
Dias faces more abuse accusations as a second Gilbert couple has alleged that she abused their autistic child. Another family filed a report with Gilbert police Jan. 22. Dias also is being investigated by the district and the state Department of Education.
Michele Berke filed a report Friday with Gilbert police alleging several incidents with her 8-year-old son, including one Nov. 7 that is documented in Dias’ personnel file in notes taken by Maas.
Her son acted like he was going to bite Dias. "So she took his hand and forcefully put it into his mouth and in a harsh manner said, ‘If your going to bite anyone you need to bite yourself!’ This was done twice."
"We’re not just going to sit back and act like stupid parents . . . She just has to be stopped," Berke said.
The Nov. 7 incident came a week after Dias was written up for an Oct. 23 incident with another student and reminded that she was not to be "physically aggressive" in disciplining students.
In that case, an aide said Dias became enraged when a child got into the snack cupboard.
"I witnessed Mrs. Dias pulling (the child) by the arm to the ground," a substitute wrote. "I also saw her grab (the child’s) arm very firmly and shake it and scold (the child) in a loud voice."
Complaints about Dias began before the first day of school, according to letters and e-mails in her personnel file, released to the Tribune in response to a public records request.
By the second week of school in mid-August, aides in Dias’ autism classroom were telling Maas that Dias yelled at them in front of the students, had no lesson plan or program, did not work with the children and sat at her desk most of the day.
In early September, the school psychologist reported that Dias had her niece typing a student’s individualized education plan, in violation of federal law, because Dias could neither type nor operate the computer. The psychologist said Dias did not know how to complete the education plan, which is a federal requirement and a key part of a specialeducation teacher’s job.
The next day, an aide reported that Dias was shoving food down a child’s throat.
The district launched an investigation in mid-September and began watching Dias more closely.
Maas was meeting almost daily with aides and Dias. There were meetings with district special-education coordinators Jane Hecker and Kathy Cummard. An outside consultant was hired in October to observe Dias and offer suggestions.
The records show that Oct. 23 was a bad day in Dias’ class.
Aides wrote that Dias "grabbed (a child) and pulled (the child) to the other side of the room. (The child) was pushed to the chair roughly."
Later that day, one of the children may have scratched or hit Dias, an aide wrote to Maas.
"Indira became so upset that she grabbed and squeezed (the child’s) arm very tightly . . . Indira then proceeded to slightly shake (the child)."
When a child and an aide toppled a cabinet, the aide wrote, Dias became enraged "and yanked (the child) up from the ground by one arm."
None of the reports were forwarded to the state Board of Education. Anyone with a teaching certificate is required to report "unprofessional or immoral" conduct to the state education board within 72 hours, said state investigator Vince Yanez.
In the Renaud case, the principal also has been suspended and faces an inquiry into whether he failed to report earlier allegations against Renaud.
Investigators said they haven’t found evidence in the Dias case to broaden their probe to include school or district administrators, but said it’s a possibility as the probe continues.