Police: Principal dragged 11-year-old special needs student

By Kumasi Aaron - Reporter/The Morning Show anchor

NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. - The principal of a Neptune Beach private school for students with special needs has been arrested on a charge of child abuse as the result of an incident last month with a disabled child, according to police.

Neptune Beach police arrested 51-year-old Ronda Steinke-McDonald, the principal of New Leaf School on Third Street.

According to a police report, on Sept. 12, an 11-year-old boy was lying on the floor in a classroom and being defiant when Steinke-McDonald tried several times to persuade him to take his seat.

Police said Steinke-McDonald (pictured, right) and another teacher then tried to pick him up and carry him out of the classroom. They said after that proved to difficult, Steinke-McDonald pulled the boy by his feet and dragged him nearly 30 feet over carpet, concrete and two door thresholds to the "quiet room."

Steinke-McDonald told police she dragged the boy slowly and while doing so continued to ask him to stand up and act appropriately, according to the report.

Steinke-McDonald and two witnesses told police the boy was dragged. Police said the boy sustained abrasions to his abdomen and what appeared to be significant scrape or rug burns to his inner right elbow.

The boy was medically evaluated by the Department of Children and Families' child protection team and his primary doctor.

Police said they don't believe Steinke-McDonald was malicious when pulling the child or that the students were in any danger. They said she told them she didn't know she was hurting the child.

"It has been her position all the time that if she ever thought, you know, one little scratch was occurring on the child, she would have stopped immediately," Lt. Adam Militello said.

"She had no reason to do that. There's no excuse," said Meibol Suarez, the boy's mother.

Suarez said she's glad Steinke-McDonald was arrested.

"She was the adult in the situation," Suarez said. "She should have taken control other ways. There's a thousand ways to go around it, not dragging him."

Police received an arrest warrant for Steinke-McDonald last week. They said she turned herself in Tuesday and has since been released on bond.

Police said it took so long to make the arrest because they wanted to "make sure all Is were dotted and Ts crossed."

Steinke-McDonald founded New Leaf School in 2000. No one at the school was available to comment Wednesday.

Parents picking up their students admitted they have concerns, but not those one might think.

"I'm concerned about it not because I think she did it," grandparent Barbara Gaddis said. "I know she didn't with any intention and I feel really bad for her."

Gaddis has been bringing her grandson to New Leaf for the last eight years.

"It's been great. I don't know what I would have done without Ronda," she said.

It's a sentiment Suarez said she shared before her son came home like he did. Its something she said she can't get past, despite Steinke-McDonald's pleas for forgiveness.

"She will only ask my husband that she could always hope that one day he could see her in the eyes and see forgiveness," Suarez said. "But how can you forget something like this?"

Suarez has since taken her son out of classes and enrolled him somewhere else.

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