‘This case is shocking’: Fairfax Co. principal failed to report abuse of nonverbal special-needs children, police say

Fairfax County police revealed more details Monday about the three Fairfax County Public Schools employees charged. (Courtesy Fairfax County police)

A Fairfax County Public Schools principal and two former employees have been charged after police said the two staff members assaulted several nonverbal children with special needs and the principal failed to report the abuse.

Cylmeera Gastav, 48, of Herndon, and Cecilia Maria Benavides, 59, of Alexandria, have both been indicted on felony child abuse charges as well as misdemeanor assault and battery charges stemming from the abuse of six children with intellectual disabilities at Freedom Hill Elementary School in Vienna, Virginia.

The two women, who have both left the school system, worked as instructional support staff in the school.

In addition, former Freedom Hill principal Scott Bloom, 39, of Reston, has been indicted on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report the suspected abuse.

Police said even another staff member went to Bloom last school year to alert him to the abuse, and he did not report it to authorities as required by law.

Bloom, who left Freedom Hill for a position at Haycock Elementary School before the allegations came to light, has been on administrative leave since September, when police first began investigating.

Fairfax County police Maj. Ed O’Carroll called the case “heartbreaking” in a news conference Monday afternoon laying out many of the details of the charges.

“This case is shocking,” he said, saying it involved “unacceptable conduct by community members who were in a position of trust, caring for the most vulnerable members of our society: children in an elementary school setting, children with intellectual disabilities.”

Detectives from the Major Crimes Bureau and the department’s child abuse squad began investigating in mid-September after a concerned teacher, who saw bruises on one of the students, “did the right thing,” O’Carroll said, and contacted school administrators and the authorities.

O’Carroll said police learned early on in the investigation that the abuse had been previously reported to the principal. O’Carroll declined to specify the nature of the children’s injuries.

He said the suspected abuse took place between April and September.

Marty Smith, the chief operating officer of Fairfax County Public Schools, said the school system is “deeply saddened” by the case and said school officials “resolve to do all we can to support our students, their families and others who have been impacted by these events.”

The school system also sent a letter home to all parents from Superintendent Scott Brabrand, which is available on the school website.

Watch the police news conference below:

Watch as Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. updates the community about the arrest of three Fairfax County Public School Employees.

Posted by Fairfax County Police Department on Monday, December 16, 2019


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Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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