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The King's Academy Preschool maintains teacher arrested was saving child, not force-feeding

Posted at 6:07 PM, Mar 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-16 21:17:27-04

A Christian preschool says it had nothing to do with the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office decision to file charges against a former teacher. 

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office arrested Piedad Meza Cruz, 46, a former teacher at The King's Academy Preschool in Royal Palm Beach for alleged child abuse. 

The mother of the child allegedly forcefully-fed by Meza says she and her husband are moving forward with a lawsuit against the school now that the criminal investigation has been completed.

"It was heartbreaking I just never thought it would happen at King’s," said Jamie Cleary. 

The Department of Children and Families, the Department of Health, the Child Protection Team of Palm Beach and now PBSO say a video camera in the classroom where the July incident took place captured Meza grabbing the child's face and allegedly pushing her head back to force food into the crying toddler's mouth.

"To hear finally after 8 months that she was arrested, now I know she'll never be able to get a teaching job it was, I'll tell you, I lost so much sleep every night just cause I'd get so frustrated thinking about it," said Cleary. 

The PBSO arrest report says: "In the video, it's clear the Piedad Meza was pushing the child's head back. She appeared to force food into the child's mouth at least twice." The report goes on to say that the child's cheeks were squeezed, consistent with the bruising on her face. 

Meza and a teacher's assistant in the classroom during the incident were both fired. The president of the school said it was because they did not follow protocol during the alleged choking incident.

After the arrest, the school's attorney Phil Valente said: "The King's Academy Preschool had no involvement in any of the decisions of the sheriff's office or the state attorney's office in deciding if a crime was committed by a former teacher. Our review of the videotape, the review of that videotape by a board-certified pediatrician, and any fair review of the videotape does not show a forced feeding of any kind. Rather the video shows the teacher's efforts to save the child from choking on food and the child was in fact saved from choking."

Cleary said she is disappointed in the school which she says was part of a dream of her and her husband's; both are alumni and say they wanted their daughter to grow up going to school at The King's Academy.

Cleary said shortly after the incident she quit her job at another campus of the school. She wants the school to release the video. 

"If you're saying this, show the video. I don’t want to see it again, but if that’s what it's going to take to get these people to see that they’re lying, then do it," added Clearly. 

We have requested the video from PBSO. Last year the president of the school said at the advice of their attorney they could not provide the video. 

We are in communication with Meza's attorney who says her client was trying to save the child and will share her side of the story.