Children on the playground at Winzler Children’s Center in Eureka. | Screenshot from a Eureka City Schools video.


Elizabeth Rice. | ECS.

Elizabeth Rice, the director of Winzler Children’s Center in Eureka, has been placed on administrative leave pending the effective date of her resignation, which she submitted two weeks after an incident in which an employee was arrested for allegedly slamming a child into a wall at the preschool.

According to an investigation report from the Community Care Licensing Division of the California Department of Social Services, Rice failed to immediately report the incident to the state, to law enforcement and to the child’s parents, and she also allowed the employee to return to work the day after the alleged abuse took place.

On Monday, during an unannounced inspection of the preschool, state investigators obtained a copy of the police report for the incident and interviewed a facility representative.

Here’s what happened, according to the investigation report and law enforcement records.

Alice Hellen Abler. | Booking photo.

On the morning of Thursday, Feb. 29, a former Winzler aide named Alice Hellen Abler was arrested on school grounds on charges of child endangerment and corporal injury on a child for allegedly slamming a preschooler into a wall. 

[UPDATE: According to two parents, who spoke to the Outpost on condition of anonymity, the violent incident had occurred the day before, on Feb. 28.]

Abler was booked into the Humboldt County Correctional Facility later that morning. She is no longer employed by Eureka City Schools.

After Monday’s inspection of the facility, the state’s Community Care Licensing Division issued a pair of citations against Winzler Children’s Center: First, it found that the preschool failed to ensure that each child is free from “corporal or unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threat, mental abuse or other actions of a punitive nature.”

And second, the agency found that Rice engaged in conduct that was harmful to the health, morals, welfare or safety of a child in her care. 

Reached via email, Eureka City Schools Director of Student Services Lisa Claussen said this incident “has shaken our Center to the core.”

“Student safety is our main priority here at Eureka City Schools, especially with our youngest learners,” wrote Claussen, who is acting as the facility’s representative. “We are fully cooperating with all investigative agencies and are following all necessary plans of correction.”

The state required Claussen to provide all parents or guardians of currently enrolled kids with a copy of the licensing report documenting the citations.

One such parent, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Outpost that he received a copy of the report when dropping off his kid this morning. He doesn’t think children at the facility are at risk going forward (he called the teachers there “professional” and “well-rounded”) but said he did have concerns about Abler and complained about her to administrators earlier this year. 

“After I complained about her being a dick, I never saw her again,” the parent said. He added that many kids at Winzler are autistic and can be challenging to manage, which makes it all the more important for aides to have sufficient training and background knowledge.

Claussen told the Outpost that the Eureka City Schools Board of Directors did not re-elect Rice as director during its March meeting. Rice submitted her resignation on March 15, though it won’t take effect until June 30. In the meantime, she remains on administrative leave.

“She will not be returning to an ECS campus,” Claussen said via email.

The state’s plan of correction requires Winzler staff to take a series of care and supervision trainings, including mandated reporter training, and submit proof of completion to the agency.