A signature bond was ordered Thursday for a Franklin Elementary School physical education teacher who was charged last week with child abuse after he was accused of striking a child with a door.
But Jordan Loeb, lawyer for Christopher Rumbelow, 60, of Madison, said the April 1 incident was an accident.
“I think it’s somewhat absurd to criminalize what everyone agrees was an accident,” Loeb said.
A criminal complaint filed in Dane County Circuit Court lists the boy as being 8 or 9 years old. The complaint charged Rumbelow with one count of reckless child abuse, a felony that carries up to 3½ years of combined prison and extended supervision.
Madison School District spokeswoman Elizabeth Merfeld said that under district protocol, Rumbelow was immediately put on leave and has not been at school.
“He will remain on leave while the criminal process is ongoing and we will take appropriate follow-up steps based on the outcome of that process,” Merfeld said.
Rumbelow is scheduled to return to court on June 10 for a status conference.
According to the complaint:
Witnesses told police that the boy had left gym class. The boy told police he left because he was put into a small group with someone who was mean to him, and that Rumbelow wouldn’t put him in a different group.
Teachers were told that if they saw the boy in the hall they were to ignore him and that he would find his way back to gym class.
When the boy returned to the gym he stood in the gym door and kicked the door, witnesses said. Rumbelow walked over to the boy and stood on one side of the doorway while another teacher stood on the other side of the door with the boy.
The teacher who was near the boy told police that Rumbelow told her to take the boy away but she said she could not put her hands on him. She said Rumbelow began to walk away and told the boy, “I can’t wait until you leave this school.”
The door closed behind Rumbelow, but he then forcefully pushed it open again, the teacher told police. She said she yelled “Stop!” but the door hit the boy in the head, causing the boy to fall into a wall, then onto the floor. The teacher, along with another teacher, walked the boy to the school health office.
The boy sustained a raised bump on his head with a small gash in the middle of the bump. His injury was diagnosed by medical staff at an urgent care clinic as a contusion.
The other teacher said that after pushing the door open, Rumbelow went back to directing his gym class. She said that day was a “double gym day,” with two classes in one gym class, which caused the boy not to get the attention he needed. She said, though, that everyone, including Rumbelow, knows that the boy’s behavior was to be ignored. She said when she reminded Rumbelow of that, he rolled his eyes at her and appeared fed up with the boy.
A person identified in the complaint as the principal designee on that day told police that she called Rumbelow into her office and he said, “I was just so mad at them.” He also said he couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just get the boy out of there. But the rule, the principal designee told police, is that staff is not allowed to “go hands on” with a child unless the child is harming himself or herself or another person. Kicking a door, she said, doesn’t reach that threshold.
Loeb said the boy had continued to be disruptive and nobody was dealing with that.
“From my read of the complaint that staff member wasn’t handling the situation,” Loeb said. “That student was continuing to be disruptive and out of control.”
He said he did not know why the Dane County District Attorney’s Office would charge a crime in a case that was clearly an accident.
“Criminalizing an accident seems to be an extreme step,” Loeb said. “There are hazards that come with every profession. I think navigating through the school system with a variety of different students all comes with opportunities for physical interaction, for accidents, for kids to get hurt.”