Teacher, school director charged in Montessori abuse case

DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCIV) - A Montessori School of the Arts teacher and the school's director have been charged in a child abuse case stemming from complaints against the teacher, Chief Deputy Sam Richardson confirmed Friday.

Teacher Lystra Zerba was charged with two counts of cruelty to children. The school's director, Elizabeth Cain, was charged with failure to report child abuse.

In bond court, a community of supporters showed up for the two women. Attorneys said Zerba and Cain were not a threat to the community.

Both attorneys declined comment after the bond hearing, saying they wanted to see what evidence was presented in the case first.

Dorchester County deputies started looking into the allegations{}earlier this month that Zerba{}physically abused several children in November.

The investigation comes after a parent of one of the students came forward with claims of abuse against her daughter.

According to the report filed by a teacher's assistant, she told officers she saw{}Zerba repeatedly "lock 4-year-old students in a dark bathroom and force them to sit on the floor." The report states the assistant also saw the teacher force feed a student by holding the child's head back until she swallowed the food.

The assistant also told deputies{}Zerba put tape over another 4-year-old student's mouth who "was being disruptive." According to the report,{}Cain saw it happening but did nothing to stop it.

On Tuesday, a woman whose child attends the school said her 3-year-old daughter told her the teacher had hit her. The mother also said{}Zerba put tape over the girl's mouth several weeks earlier, the report states.

Dorchester County Department of Social Services officials told deputies they did not have any prior complaints about Zerba.