WILDOMAR -- A claim that a preschooler was hit with a stick as a form of corporal punishment at Bundy Canyon Christian School has prompted an investigation of the private campus by social service workers and the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, officials said Monday.
With parent permission, the private campus may dole out discipline in the form of "swats" to students at the preschool-through-eighth-grade school, according to a permission slip some parents sign and keep on file with the school.
Robert Gonzalez, an official with the California Department of Social Services, said the department is investigating an allegation that a preschool student "was struck with some sort of stick." He declined to comment on the specifics of the case other than to say state law prohibits that type of discipline against preschoolers, regardless of whether it takes place at a private or public school.
Likewise, Riverside County sheriff's Sgt. Earl Quinata said police are investigating the school after a call Thursday claiming an assault took place at the campus the day before. The investigation is ongoing, and no one has been arrested, he said.
Bundy Canyon Christian School is owned by Larry Walker, pastor of Bundy Canyon Christian Church, which flanks the campus. On Thursday, Walker referred questions to the California Department of Child Protection Services. On Monday, he again declined to comment, but added he would make statements at a later date.
Gonzalez, regional manager for the Inland Empire's community care licensing division with the state's Department of Social Services, said Bundy Canyon Christian School has been the subject of three investigations since June, two regarding unsafe campus conditions and the other "personal rights."
"In preschools, you can't spank a child, not even with parental permission," Gonzalez said. "It isn't really that common. ... The state takes this very, very seriously."
The department has made routine annual visits to the school several times since 2001, but nothing during those visits prompted an investigation, he said.
Bundy Canyon Christian School is at least 20 years old and is situated on about 13 acres in a rural area off Bundy Canyon Road. The 350-student school has a farm-like feel, with goats and other animals kept in enclosures around the campus.
The school's mission, according to its Web site, is to "provide a place to nurture children academically and spiritually. We want our children to excel academically and to develop physically and socially, but most of all, we want them to find favor with God."
A discipline permission slip signed by some parents who have enrolled their children states "please be advised that I have requested, and give ... permission for swats to be given to my student for disciplinary purposes only."
School officials on Monday declined to state whether all parents must sign the permission slip to enroll their children, whether all parents are aware of the school's corporal punishment policy, how often "swats" are used as a form of discipline, and what ages students are who receive the swats.
While the state education code forbids corporal punishment, such as spanking, at public schools, private schools are largely allowed to set their own discipline policies.
During their visit to the school last week, social service officials met with administrators, toured the campus, interviewed teachers and students and reviewed student files, according to a document detailing the visit.
The outcome of the investigation will be made public when it concludes, possibly in a few weeks, Gonzalez said. Depending on the results, the school employee accused of hitting the preschooler could face anything from no charges to being prohibited from working at any facility licensed by the department, he said.
Meanwhile, a concurrent investigation over unsafe campus conditions is also under way at the school.
A social services report dated Nov. 9 details cracked windows, missing and broken ceiling tiles, rusted vents and cleaning products such as bleach in reach of students. Social service officials have developed a plan to correct these problems with school officials, some of which have already been addressed, according to the report.
"The facility concerns are things that can be corrected with relative ease," Gonzalez said.
In another investigation into Bundy Canyon Christian last June, social service officials visited the school to investigate an incident in which a child fell off a swing and received a concussion. They determined it was an accident, but while visiting the school, they cited it for having a wading pool full of water on the playground.
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