Education

Madison teacher faces reckless child abuse charge for incident involving student, principal says

Madison teacher faces reckless child abuse charge for incident involving student, principal says

MADISON, Wis. - A staff member for the Madison Metropolitan School District faces child abuse charges after an incident involving a student. 

Christopher Rumbelow, 60, of Madison, faces one count of reckless child abuse causing bodily harm. Rumbelow is listed as the physical education teacher at Franklin Elementary school in Madison. A spokesperson with the district tells us Rumbelow has taught in the district for 30 years.

A student came home from school April 1 and told his mother a teacher caused an injury on his forehead, according to a criminal complaint filed in Dane County Circuit Court last week.

The student told a Dane County Health Services worker that his gym teacher, Rumbelow, slammed a door in his face, according to the complaint. The complaint did not indicate at which school this incident took place.

The student said Rumbelow put him in a small group with another child who is "mean to him every day" and would not allow him to change groups. The student said he eventually left class to walk in a hallway before closing the door to the gym. He also indicated he closed the door again after his gym teacher opened it and asked him to keep it that way. The student told the DCHS worker he "didn't listen" and started to kick the door before closing it again. The student said Ruimbelow opened the door again, causing the handle to hit him in the head, according to the criminal complaint. 

Officers investigating this incident reported seeing a visible bump, about 3/4 of an inch slightly above the student's left eyebrow. The officer noted there was a gash in the middle of the bump and the student confirmed that is where the door hit him, according to the complaint. Officers said the student indicated Rumbelow swung his arm out in front of him to open the door and said he was yelling at him to "stop kicking the door."

Several staff members were interviewed by detectives and appear only by their initials in the criminal complaint. They describe Rumbelow as appearing frustrated with the situation.

One teacher told detectives he became upset that teachers could not use a hands-on approach to handle the situation. She said staff cannot go hands-on with a child unless the child is harming themselves or someone else, according to the complaint. The teacher also mentioned that kicking a gym door does not meet the hands-on threshold.

Another teacher told detectives she yelled "stop" when she saw Rumbelow pushing the door open because she was worried the door would hit the student. She said the student began screaming and crying after the door hit him and she ran over to him and helped him walk to the health office. 

Another teacher told detectives she believed Rumbelow's behavior was different than usual for that day, and another staff member said Rumbelow came into nurse's office to apologize to the student.

The principal of Franklin Elementary School, Sylla Zarov, issued a letter about this incident. The letter did not identify Rumbelow as the staff member involved. 

“I know that news like this involving our school will be difficult to digest. I want you to know that I am here to talk with you and support you,” Sarvos said in the letter. “I also want you to know that we have been working very closely with the family to support them and our student."

The letter also indicated the staff member involved has been put on administrative leave and will remain there while the criminal process plays out. 

The school district also released a statement. "The safety and well-being of our students is our top priority and we took immediate action in this situation," said Rachel Strauch-Nelson, a spokesperson with MMSD. 

The count of reckless child abuse is a felony charge that could lead to a fine or 3.5 years in prison.  Rumbelow is expected to appear in Dane County Circuit Court for an initial hearing Thursday morning. 

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