LORAIN, Ohio — *Viewer discretion is advised.
Lorain City Schools has released video footage that shows two elementary school workers making a 9-year-old student eat food that had been tossed in the garbage can, an incident that resulted in the firing of both a lunch aide and the school's principal.
The incident occurred in December, with the student's family later filing a lawsuit against the school district. In the video provided to 3News, the faces of all children involved have been blurred out.
A little less than 15 minutes prior to the start of lunch for students at Palm Elementary School, paraprofessional staff member Monika Sommers-Fridenstine (at the top of the frame wearing a mask and a light blue shirt) can be seen motioning to a young girl sitting at a table on the left furthest away from the camera. The child then meets Sommers-Fridenstine and Principal Debra Pustulka by the yellow trash can on the far left and empties her tray, but Sommers-Fridenstine then takes something out of the pail.
You can watch the footage in the player below:
According to the lawsuit, the student had been eating waffles and decided to throw them away after deciding she didn't like them, but Pustulka told her she had to finish them. Sommers-Fridenstine then allegedly pulled them out and wiped them off, something the footage appears to show her doing before taking them back to the girl's table.
Several minutes go by with the child appearing to speak to Sommers-Fridenstine multiple times, and at two points Sommers-Fridenstine sits down directly next to her. The lawsuit claims Sommers-Fridenstine sat across from the student and made her finish the waffles while her classmates laughed at her.
Sommers-Fridenstine then went about her duties for the next 10-15 minutes before the lunch group was dismissed and she left the cafeteria. The student's family says she subsequently arrived home sick and told her mother what had happened, later being taken to the hospital with a fever.
Following an investigation, Lorain City Schools Superintendent and CEO Dr. Jeff Graham fired both Sommers-Fridenstine and Pustulka, a decision that was endorsed by the Lorain Board of Education. Graham also reached out to the girl's family directly and apologized on behalf of the district.
"Any infringement upon the dignity and respect of our students will not be tolerated," Graham said in a public statement. "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."
The federal lawsuit says the child's rights were violated and that she has had to undergo mental health treatment in the weeks since the incident. Neither Sommers-Fridenstine nor Pustulka have yet commented publicly.