In 2016, a 12-year-old boy from Berrien County was found on the railroad tracks by police, after running away from home. He was starved, bruised, and told officers that he didn’t expect to live to see his 13th birthday. He and his five siblings were removed from their home by CPS. His father and stepmother were both charged with First Degree Child Abuse for beating and starving him – charges which they have already pled guilty to and been sentenced for. Neither is up for parole until 2036. Until then, the six children are under the care of the state, most likely placed in foster homes or with relatives. End of story…… except it isn’t.
Four employees of Three Oaks Elementary School are being charged for failure to report abuse. Heidi Clark the school principal, Matt Cook the guidance counselor, Diane Balling the special education teacher, and elementary school teacher Sherrie Bender have all been accused of not reporting child abuse that they suspected. All four have admitted that they noticed the signs of abuse and were aware that something was amiss, but chose not to report their suspicions to the Department of Health and Human Services.
This case is full of conflicting information. According to Will Kearney, the superintendent of River Valley Public Schools, he was informed on May 18th about the four staff members who were being charged. However, he says that school records show that a staff member reported the suspected abuse in December of 2015. He also claims that the state informed him in February of 2016 that no action was being taken because they hadn’t found sufficient evidence to substantiate the claim.
In addition, several people have spoken up in court, providing testimony about what wonderful, kind and loving teachers some of the defendants are. Judge Scott Schofield who is presiding over all four cases at present, says that “It is a somewhat complicated case factually. Legally, not so much.” he explained, “but factually. There’s a lot of documents and information.” It will likely take some time to disentangle the different stories and perspectives in this case.
All four educators have been charged with two counts each of Failing to Report Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect. The first count is for abuse and neglect that took place in 2015, while the second count is for events in 2016. All four face trials, although the judge has said that their trials will be held separately.
This is a tragic situation, where otherwize dedicated and hardworking educators are being accused of a crime that they didn’t commit. The fact that the school made a report of suspected abuse and were told that nothing would come of it should have been enough. However, this looks like another example of CPS attempting to punish people for crimes they didn’t commit. We will keep a close eye on this case and keep you updated as it develops.
Until then, if you or a loved one have been accused of failing to report suspected abuse or neglect, you are going to need a highly skilled defense attorney on your side. At The Kronzek Firm our attorneys are highly experienced at battling this hostile system, and work hard to keep families together. You need a team that is not intimidated and understands exactly how to protect your rights. So call 866 766 5245 today to discuss your case with an attorney who can provide you with excellent advice, right when you need it.