Teacher, school director in alleged abuse case released on bond

Published: Mar. 1, 2013 at 6:43 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2013 at 2:39 AM EST
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Elizabeth Cain and Lystra Zerba
Elizabeth Cain and Lystra Zerba

SUMMMERVILLE, SC (WCSC) - A school director and a teacher charged in connection to alleged abuse at the Summerville Montessori School of the Arts have been released on bond.

The Dorchester County Sheriff's Office charged School Director Elizabeth Cain with failing to report alleged abuse at the school. Lystra Zerba, a teacher at the school, is facing two counts of cruelty to children.

Both women were released on PR bond Friday afternoon. Zerba is on administrative leave and has been instructed not to contact victims or the school. Cain will resume her position at the school.

During the bond court hearing, the father of one of the victims said Zerba "was essential to his son's well being" and didn't consider her a threat.

According to an incident report, the investigation into the abuse began on Feb. 8 when a teacher's assistant told investigators she had seen a teacher lock "upset four-year-old students in a dark bathroom and force them to sit on the floor."

The witness also said she had seen the teacher force a child to eat.  When the child refused, the teacher physically held the child's head back and kept it back until she swallowed the food, the report states. The teacher also placed duct tape on the mouth of a four-year-old boy who was being disruptive, the assistant added.

The assistant told investigators she had reported the incident to the school's administrator, but no action was taken, the report states.

Investigators had spoken with the mother of a student at the school. The mother said her three-year-old daughter, who was in the aforementioned teacher's class, told her that her teacher had hit her. Furthermore, the mother said her three-year-old recently took a piece of packaging tape and put it forcibly over her mouth, held there, and angrily exclaimed, "Now you be quiet!"

The mother told investigators this behavior from her daughter was very confusing, as neither she nor the child's father had cable television. The mother said she was sure her daughter had not seen that kind of behavior on television.

Last month, the teacher's assistant who reported the abuse, Savannah Williams, said she had been terminated. An attorney for the school, Dale Savage, said Williams was let go after parents began pulling their kids out of the teacher's class. Williams told us she's "livid" about the court's decision to release the women on bond.

He said only one student showed up at Zerba's class after the alleged abuse became public knowledge.

When Jacobs reached out to the school's owner and director, Elizabeth Cain, she declined to comment.

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