Trial date set in Montessori abuse case

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCIV) -- In a pretrial hearing Thursday, a judge set the trial date for the teacher accused of abusing children at a Summerville Montessori school.

Lystra Zerba faces three counts of child abuse.

Dorchester County Solicitor Phil Giese told the judge the trial could last a week because there are multiple witnesses to be called in this case. Zerba has no criminal background, her attorney says she is eager to put these allegations behind her at trial.

"Ms. Zerba maintains her innocence, she's absolutely innocent of this. She is a decorated Navy veteran, medals of accommodation she's been teaching for years and parents love her," said Thomas Rode, Zerba's attorney.

Attorney Rad Deaton, who represents some of the victims, said his clients have no comment at this time.

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.

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