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Lorain superintendent fires elementary school principal, staff member after student forced to eat food from garbage can

In a special meeting on Thursday, Lorain's Board of Education voted to support the firing of both staff members.

LORAIN, Ohio — Editor's Note: The above video features previous reporting on this story.

The Lorain City School District has announced that two staff members have been fired following an investigation into an employee allegedly forcing an elementary school student to eat food that was retrieved from a garbage can in the cafeteria.

In a release sent out Thursday, the district says Superintendent/CEO Dr. Jeff Graham fired Palm Elementary School Principal Debra Pustulka and paraprofessional staff member Monika Sommers-Fridenstine, effective immediately. 

Under Ohio law, Pustulka will be given a ten-day notice which would allow her to appeal the decision to discharge her. Pustulka had served as principal at Palm Elementary School since 2008.

The district's investigation into the incident included utlizing cafeteria video footage. A disciplinary hearing was held on Monday, when Graham informed the Lorain Board of Education of his intention to fire both Pustulka and Sommers-Fridenstine.

Due to Lorain City Schools being under Academic Distress with HB 70 legislation, the board has no authority to act on the superintendent's request. However, they voted on Thursday to support the firing of both staff members. HB 70 does allow the removal of a school administrator at the discretion of the CEO.

Since the incident, the 9-year-old student's family has filed a lawsuit against the Lorain Board of Education and the person accused of making the child eat the food. 

According to the lawsuit obtained by 3News, the student was eating waffles with friends and decided she didn't like them and went to throw them away. She was then told by the school's principal that she needed to finish what was on her tray. A school employee then grabbed the waffles out of the trash, asked the child the get a paper towel, and told her she would have to finish the waffles. 

The lawsuit alleges that the school employee sat across from her while she finished the food and other students laughed at her. Following the incident, the student felt sick and when she arrived home and told her mother what had occurred, she was taken to the hospital and had a fever. 

The lawsuit alleges that the school employee violated the student's rights and that the school district failed to train against inappropriate and abusive misconduct. According to the lawsuit, the incident endangered the safety of the student and she has since required mental health treatment.

The district says Graham has been in direct contact with the family since learning of the incident. As soon as the situation was confirmed he called the family to apologize on behalf of the district. He then met with the family to listen to their concerns to help address their needs moving forward.

“Any infringement upon the dignity and respect of our students will not be tolerated. Our students deserve staff members who are able to make good decisions in all situations — and any staff member who is unable to deliver on that promise is unwelcome in our schools," Graham says in a statement.

Lorain City Schools says it is in the process of identifying a new principal "to provide the leadership, heart and judgment we expect for our schools." 

“We have phenomenal people doing great work in our schools each and every day,” Graham added. “This incident in no way demonstrates who we are as a district, and we will not let the actions of two people define us when there are so many wonderful things happening in our classrooms, schools and community.”

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