Former Steamboat Springs High School employee faces charges of child abuse, endangerment of at-risk student
A former Steamboat Springs High School paraprofessional was put on administrative leave and then resigned Feb. 3 following an alleged incident that led to charges related to crimes against an at-risk juvenile.
Sylvia Rawlings, 61, faces three misdemeanor charges including one count each of crimes against an at-risk person, child abuse and reckless endangerment.
According to a statement released by Steamboat Springs School District, the district immediately placed Rawlings on administrative leave upon receiving a report of inappropriate conduct involving Rawlings and a student.
The alleged incident occurred on Jan. 31 and involves accusations Rawlins mishandled a disabled, nonverbal student’s wheelchair that resulted in a fall.
School officials said they initiated an investigation and reported the incident to law enforcement. The next day, Rawlings resigned.
“Steamboat Springs School District understands that our students deserve a safe learning environment and will take all necessary steps to uncover the details of what happened and to ensure all of our students are safe at school,” the district said in the statement. “Steamboat Springs School District is fully cooperating with our law enforcement partners during their investigation.”
An arrest affidavit states that surveillance footage shows Rawlings pushing the student in a wheelchair inside the school gym while allowing it to spin out of control before grabbing it again. Rawlings was allegedly observed doing this multiple times while the student was sitting in the wheelchair with a lap belt on.
The affidavit says Rawlings was then seen pushing the wheelchair with a long stride before having to run after it as the wheelchair glided quickly on the gym floor. The affidavit states that the wheelchair spun to the right, before the left wheel lifted off the ground and the wheelchair fell on its side.
The footage reportedly shows the student in the wheelchair falling to the ground head first.
Rawlings is then seen attempting to lift the wheelchair but needed help from another paraprofessional to do so. Rawlings then repositioned the student in the wheelchair and continued to push it, according to the arrest affidavit.
The affidavit says the wheelchair appeared to spin out five more times before Rawlings checked to make sure the student was OK. The affidavit adds that Rawlings did not immediately go to the school nurse and continued to push the student in front of her, out of arm’s reach, before running after the wheelchair to stop it again.
According to the affidavit, Rawlings said that she notified a special education teacher about the incident upon reentering the classroom from the gym. The investigation reportedly showed Rawlings had been advised by a coworker two months prior to the alleged incident that she should not push the wheelchair in that manner and that it was unsafe.
After the incident, the student’s parents, concerned their child came home from school with a large bump on their forehead, took the student to the emergency room. After examining the student, emergency room doctors determined the student did not sustain any serious injuries.
Law enforcement found probable cause to arrest Rawlings on allegations she knowingly placed an at-risk individual in a situation that posed a threat to their physical and mental welfare, and engaged in conduct that created substantial risk of serious bodily injury.
Rawlings’ next scheduled court date is set for March 15.
Kit Geary is the county, public safety and education reporter. To reach her, call 970-871-4229 or email her at kgeary@SteamboatPilot.com.
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