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Principal charged after video captures him shoving special-needs student

Newly released footage from a Fresno, Calif., school shows now-former school principal, Brian Vollhardt, pushing a young student to the ground in June. (Video: The Washington Post)

In early June, a student with special needs walked up to a principal in a Fresno, Calif., school cafeteria and pointed his finger at the adult. Seconds later, the principal pushed the 10-year-old boy to the ground in front of school staff and other students, an inaudible 30-second clip shows.

Authorities have since charged Brian Vollhardt, the then Wolters Elementary School principal, with child abuse and endangerment in connection with the incident involving the minor, who was not publicly identified, court records show.

The misdemeanor charge comes after the Fresno Unified School District released a copy of the June 7 video on Thursday. District officials said Vollhardt and staff members “were working with an upset student” at the school cafeteria that June morning. It is unclear what happened before the video begins.

“Instead of de-escalating the situation, the former principal chose to aggressively shove the student down,” Superintendent Bob Nelson said Thursday at a news conference. He referred to the behavior as “appalling” and inexcusable.

Vollhardt could not be reached by The Washington Post. His attorney, Roger Wilson, told The Post his client is being vilified by the 30-second clip, adding that the child was known for “acting out all the time.”

“He [Vollhardt] is a well-regarded educator and this is completely out of character,” Wilson told The Post.

Ann Frank, the guardian of the boy who refers to him as her son, told KFSN that her child is autistic. Frank added that the video would have not been made public if it weren’t because two weeks ago, she complained to authorities because no charges had been filed months after the incident.

“My son was pushed with force by this principal who was supposed to protect him,” Frank told the local station.

Fresno Police Department Chief Paco Balderrama acknowledged his department did not initially prioritize the case.

“We cannot change the fact that our process failed to properly categorize the incident as an ‘active case’ and there was an unnecessary and unacceptable delay in our process,” Balderrama told The Post in an email. “ … I should have been made aware of the incident much sooner.”

Nelson said the boy did not suffer any injuries.

The school district suspended Vollhardt on June 8, Nelson said during the news conference. He resigned once the district disciplined him, Nelson said.

Vollhardt, who went on to become the vice principal of the Golden Plains Unified School District, was placed on leave on Thursday following the news conference, Martin Macias, the school district’s superintendent, told The Post in an email.

Balderrama said he apologized to the child’s guardian on Friday.

“My standards and expectations for the Fresno Police Department are much higher than what was revealed last week,” Balderrama added. “We must and will do better because our community’s children need us.”

Vollhardt is set to appear in court on Sept. 26, records show.