Nebraska special needs teacher charged with child abuse; ‘He could have died every day,’ says mother

A Nebraska City Public Schools (NCPS) teacher is being charged with felony child abuse for her actions against a disabled student.

Mother Jennifer Egri became concerned when her special needs son, Tristyn, started coming home from school in a state of distress.

“He’d say things like, ‘My teachers don’t like me.’ I really never understood what that meant,” she told local media.

Tristyn has autism, a history of heart issues and seizures, and other health issues that make strenuous physical activity potentially dangerous. He also suffers from a genetic mutation known to cause sudden death before the age of 21.

So Egri sent Tristyn to school with a recording device. What she discovered was appalling.

The police affidavit based on the recording reported Tristyn’s teacher, Melissa Valenta, forced him to mop the floor without rest, tipped him out of his chair and stepped on his finger, called him a “jackass,” locked him out of the classroom, and forced him to walk up and down stairs, despite his health concerns.

Egri alleges even more abuse wasn’t recorded, like being denied restroom breaks and forced to sit in soiled pants.

“It’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” said Egri. “I trusted these people to do their job. And it’s just horrible.”  

According to NPCS, Valenta resigned from her position. Two classroom aides are also being charged with misdemeanor child abuse. 

“We are obviously very disturbed by these allegations as we take our responsibility to keep students safe seriously,” said Mark Fritch, Superintendent of NCPS. “The administration took immediate action to remove employees from duty after learning about the allegations.”  

Court records say Valenta had worked with Tristyn, who is currently 17, since he was in 6th grade.  

A court hearing is scheduled for Feb. 1. In the meantime, Tristyn is not attending the school due to his family’s lack of trust in the program.  

“He could have died every day he went to school,” said Egri. “He’s had to go through more things than most adults will in their entire lifetime.