FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – A former Fresno Unified school principal is facing charges for willful cruelty to a minor. On Thursday morning, the district released a video where he is seen aggressively shoving a special needs child, but the chief of Fresno Police was only made aware of the incident two days earlier.
The district said the incident happened on June 7 at Wolters Elementary’s cafeteria.
“Our former principal, Brian Vollhardt, and a couple of staff members were working with an upset student,” Fresno Unified superintendent Bob Nelson said. “Instead of de-escalating the situation, which is what we’d expect of an educator in our system, the former principal chooses to aggressively shove the student down instead.”
The 30-second footage shows the 9-year-old African American boy apparently talking to Vollhardt and pointing at him before he is shoved to the ground.
“How dare you touch somebody else’s kid in that manner,” said Fresno Unified Trustee Keshia Thomas. “That was blatant assault and abuse.
The district said the 9-year-old is physically ok, and that Vollhardt self-reported the incident to Fresno Unified. They launched an investigation the following day.
The district said during this investigation, they learned of another incident from back in May. Trustee Veva Islas confirmed reports that Vollhardt had pinned down the same child to the floor, holding down the student’s shoulder for several minutes.
“Let me be very clear, unequivocal on this matter – there’s no excuse for repugnant behavior such as this,” said Nelson.
Nelson explained they reported the attack to the Fresno Police Department, Child Protective Services, and the State. Vollhardt resigned shortly after.
“This falls above just a simple administrative issue; this is a crime,” said Fresno PD Chief Paco Balderrama.
Balderrama learned of the June incident two days ago and acknowledged system failures within the department for a delay in the investigation. After he turned the case over to the District Attorney’s office on Wednesday, the former principal was charged with willful cruelty to a minor.
“It just seems like every time over the last four years since I’ve been in this seat, there’s been something that has happened to black kids,” said Thomas, adding that Vollhardt had a history with the black community at Wolters Elementary.
“I spoke to a few of our African American leaders, and they had some encounters with this individual as employees, and his demeanor was not always good towards African Americans.”
“At no time should an adult do exactly what was done in this video. It just makes it 10 times worse when you see an African American kid that has already been told over the years, he’s already considered less than because of the color of his skin,” said St. Rest Baptist Church pastor DJ Criner.
In 2020, Fresno Unified tweeted a picture of Vollhardt where he pledged to “extend grace, compassion and support” to students during the pandemic.
Vollhardt is now working at Tranquility High School. YourCentralValley.com contacted the school for comment and has not heard back. The newsroom also reached out to the California Department of Education and has not heard back.
This isn’t the first controversy at Wolters Elementary. In July, Fresno PD arrested teacher Robert Duprey for sexual assault charges.