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Mason principal sued over alleged abuse

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Mason County principal apparently dragged a special-needs boy screaming from the seat of a school bus, rolled him down the bus steps and forced him to the pavement, according to video footage released as part of a federal lawsuit against the man and the county school board.

The lawsuit, filed by Melanie Plants on behalf of her son, Zachary, 11, comes two weeks after police arrested Point Pleasant Intermediate School Principal Cameron C. Moffett and charged him with felony child abuse in connection with the incident.

On March 21, bus security cameras recorded Moffett ordering all children seated in front of Zachary Plants off the bus. After the boy walked to a seat near the front, he sat down and refused to leave the bus. The video shows Moffett grabbing him from the seat and forcing him into the aisle, then rolling him down the bus steps.

The boy can be heard screaming "I'm sorry" during the incident.

As he lay on the pavement, in front of dozens of other students and teachers, Moffett appears to push his knee into the boy's back before ordering him to "get up."

At least three adults, including a teacher and a bus driver, did not attempt to intervene.

A criminal complaint filed in Mason County Magistrate Court also states that Moffett "pushed and shoved" the boy out the door and, once outside, "held Zachary to the ground with his hand and knee to his back."

Moffett was released from custody after posting a $20,000 property bond.

Students were preparing to embark on a field trip when the incident occurred, according to Mike Clifford, the Plants family's attorney. The bus driver and teacher noticed that the boy was sitting in the aisle of the crowded vehicle, apparently pushed there by his two seatmates.

Both adults approached the boy and asked him to move. When he refused, the teacher sent for Moffett.

Plants, according to the lawsuit, is on the school system's individualized education plan, indicating that he has special needs. The lawsuit does not indicate his exact condition.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

Mason County Schools Superintendent Suzanne Dickens confirmed Friday that Moffett is still employed by the school system, but refused to go into detail about his status.

"Is he still employed? Yes," Dickens told the Gazette-Mail. "Is he at the school? No."

Dickens told the Point Pleasant Register earlier this week that Moffett had been moved to an "off-site location." She refused to disclose that location or his duties.

"I can't comment on that because it's a personnel issue," she said.

A secretary at Point Pleasant Intermediate confirmed that Moffett was not in the building. Gregory Bailey, a lawyer for the county school board, did not return a phone call Friday afternoon.

Plants suffered a minor laceration on the face and a bruised arm as a result of the incident, Clifford said. The lawsuit indicates that the boy will undergo extensive emotional therapy.

The school system has not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Board of Education, said state school officials have been made aware of the allegations.

"Obviously, the county needs to do their own investigation," Cordeiro said. "I'm going to assume, in collaboration with the local law enforcement."

Cordeiro said state school board members could decide to present the allegations to the West Virginia Commission on Professional Teaching Standards, a regulating agency made up of teachers, lawyers and citizens that hear cases of teachers and administrators accused of misconduct. The commission could recommend that state Superintendent Jorea Marple revoke Moffett's teaching license.

The commission would be made aware of criminal charges, Cordeiro said, but they would not take action based solely on those allegations -- meaning that Moffett potentially could serve as the principal until a conviction on child-abuse charges.

Cordeiro said she did not know how long the state board's disciplinary procedure takes.

Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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