FRESNO, California -- A new lawsuit accuses a longtime California teacher of using physical violence in a fifth-grade classroom.
"He basically must've just melted down and smacked a 10-year-old boy not once but twice," said Kara Hitchcock, the attorney representing the family in their lawsuit against Dinuba Unified and the teacher, Edward Warkentin.
The boy says his day at Kennedy Elementary School in December 2016 got a little violent while kids in his class worked on a project.
The lawsuit filed this month says his teacher got mad the boy was talking, so he smacked the fifth grader in the face with some papers. His attorney says a backhand to the face followed.
"For a grown man to hit a little boy, it's astonishing," Hitchcock said. "But much less for a teacher to hit a little boy? That's disturbing."
She says the boy suffered physical pain and mental difficulties afterward, including behavioral changes like a fear of male teachers.
She says several students saw it happen and they will back up the boy's story.
In fact, the lawsuit says Warkentin has a pattern of dealing with students in a harsh, abusive manner.
"After this happened, information came out that he had prior incidents of violence in the classroom -- nothing to the point of striking a child," Hitchcock said. "But I would classify throws books, throwing a sweater, things along those lines as certainly not appropriate."
ABC11's sister-station KFSN reached out to Warkentin by email Wednesday but got no response.
He has taught in Dinuba Unified for 22 years, mostly at the elementary school level through seventh grade, but the district moved him from Kennedy Elementary to the campus of the district's continuation school and adult school.
Warkentin has no public disciplinary records on his teacher's credential.
The Dinuba Unified superintendent told us he's not aware of the lawsuit. But earlier this year the boy's family submitted a government claim. The mandatory precursor to a lawsuit against a government entity and the school district rejected it.
Administrators didn't respond to our questions about the accusations or any discipline they may have imposed on Warkentin.