Kanawha County Schools releases statement on middle school employees facing battery charges
KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Kanawha County Schools has released a statement regarding the allegations of abuse at a middle school.
Three employees from Horace Mann Middle School in Charleston are facing battery charges after police say they were caught on camera abusing students in a special needs classroom.
The school district’s statement is below:
“The Kanawha County Board of Education is taking the allegations of abuse that occurred at Horace Mann Middle School (HMMS) very seriously, which is why immediately upon discovery HMMS and KCBOE reported the incident to law enforcement, child protective services, and the parents/guardians of the involved children. It is also why KCBOE continues to work with all involved in investigating the matters. That being said, the KCBOE feels that is important to explain to the public how it became aware of the alleged incidents at HMMS in order to alleviate doubt that the KCBOE is doing everything required and allowed by law to hold responsible parties accountable.
In an effort to be transparent the KCBOE has the following statement in regard to the incidents of alleged abuse that happened at HMMS. Everything contained in this statement can be supported by documentation created at the time of the discovery of the alleged abuse and during the investigation, which is still ongoing. Some of these documents have been provided to local news outlets under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request.
On May 12, 2021, Assistant Principal at HMMS Brittany Harris received a noise complaint during the annual testing about a special education self-contained classroom. Ms. Harris went to the classroom and as she approached the classroom, saw what appeared to be a classroom Aide patting a student who was sitting down on a bean bag chair. When Ms. Harris saw this through the door window, the classroom Aide’s back was to Ms. Harris. Believing at the time that what she saw through the door window was the Aide patting the student, Ms. Harris entered the room to talk about the noise. While in the classroom, Ms. Harris reported that she observed the Aides to be upset and the student who previously was on the bean bag chair to be agitated and spinning in circles. The Aides and Teacher in the classroom told Ms. Harris that the student had spit on one of them and that they had tried to get her to apologize. Ms. Harris observed the teacher in the classroom on the phone with the student’s guardian to explain the behaviors they were now witnessing, which Ms. Harris stated was not typical but did not at the time have any idea why. At all points prior to this there had not been an issue reported to administration that would rise to the level to indicate that child abuse was happening in this classroom. The only known prior report that would have caused a concern of a suspicion of abuse in the classroom was made to the classroom teacher, one of the alleged abusers.
Ms. Harris reported that after she left the classroom on May 12th, she discussed what she had seen and observed outside the classroom and inside the classroom with Principal Tweedy. Ms. Harris reported that when they were able to talk about the full situation at the end of the day, they started to have a suspicion of abuse due to the noise level in the classroom, the agitation in the classroom, the unusual behavior the student was exhibiting, and the touch that had previously looked like patting that was observed through the door window. Based on this now fully developed suspicion of abuse, and in accordance with the law, Ms. Harris and Principal Shandon Tweedy decided that they needed to view the video footage. After viewing the footage, Ms. Harris and Mrs. Tweedy called Charleston Police, State Police, Child Protective Services, Central Office, and the guardian of the child involved in the incident. All of this happened on May 12, 2021. At the time, the only footage viewed, was that day’s footage and all that was seen in that day’s footage was the incident with one child, one teacher, and two aides.
On May 17, 2021, the KCBOE received two letters from Mr. Michael Cary, Esq. stating that he was representing the student whose incident the KCBOE was already aware of and also representing another student who the KCBOE did not know at the time had also been allegedly abused in the same classroom. That letter requested that the video footage from that classroom from May 1 to May 17, 2021 be preserved, as well as all related documents and incident reports. That was done. Also on May 17, the Administration at HMMS were told about another incident that had previously been reported to the teacher and alleged abuser in the special education classroom in question. In preserving the video footage requested, investigating the known incident, and based on the allegation of another incident that may have occurred with another student, the KCBOE began reviewing all the video footage preserved. It was during that investigation that the KCBOE discovered an incident on May 4, 2021. That discovery was likewise immediately communicated to the police, and child protective services as an addition to the May 12, 2021 report, in addition to the parent of the child in the video.
The KCBOE was made aware that Mr. Salango would be working with Mr. Cary on this matter after both incidents were reported to the appropriate authorities and parents, and after the KCBOE had already begun reviewing additional footage in its investigation of the alleged abuse. In communication with Mr. Cary and Mr. Salango the KCBOE made it clear that they would be permitted to review the footage. They did review the footage. They will continue to be provided that access.
Also requested under FOIA and by the general public, as well as Mr. Cary and Mr. Salango, have been the release of the video tapes from the self-contained special education classrooms where the alleged abuse took place. The KCBOE recognizes the public’s interest in those tapes, however, is not at liberty to legally produce them publicly, nor can it legally produce them to Mr. Salango and Mr. Cary for public dissemination. The law on this states, in part,
(j) Except as provided under subsections (k) and (l) of this section, a video recording of a student made under this section is confidential and shall not be released or viewed.
(k) Within seven days of receiving a request, a public school or school district shall allow viewing of a video recording by:
(1) A public school or school district employee who is involved in an alleged incident that is documented by the video recording and has been reported to the public school or school district;
(2) A parent or legal guardian of a student who is involved in an alleged incident that is documented by the video recording and has been reported to the public school or school district;
(3) An employee of a public school or school district as part of an investigation into an alleged incident that is documented by the video recording and has been reported to the public school or school district;
(4) A law-enforcement officer as part of an investigation into an alleged incident that is documented by the video recording and has been reported to the law-enforcement agency; or
(5) The Department of Health and Human Resources as part of a child abuse and neglect investigation…
(l) When a video is under review as part of the investigation of an alleged incident, and the video reveals a student violating a disciplinary code or rule of the school, which violation is not related to the alleged incident for which the review is occurring, and which violation is not already the subject of a disciplinary action against the student, the student is not subject to disciplinary action by the school for such unrelated violation unless it reveals a separate incident as described in §18-20-11(b)(1) of this code.
W. Va. Code § 18-20-11 (emphasis added).
This law only allows the KCBOE to provide the video for viewing to a school district employee involved in the alleged incident, a parent or legal guardian of student who was involved in an alleged incident, an employee of the school district who is investigating an alleged incident, law enforcement pursuant to an investigation of an alleged incident, and the Department of Health and Human Resources as part of an abuse investigation. There is no exception that allows the KCBOE to release footage with parental permission. Additionally, there is no provision that allows the KCBOE to even release the footage to the parents. They may only view the footage. All parents of students who were in that self-contained classroom, as well as their attorneys have been provided opportunity to view the footage, and have. Furthermore, now that the KCBOE is aware of incidents of alleged abuse in that classroom, and has suspicion that they may have been more incidents, it is now reviewing 90-days worth of footage to determine if additional acts occurred in that classroom which the KCBOE will, if applicable, direct law enforcement to, as well as Child Protective Services. That footage has been preserved.
Throughout the entirety of this matter, starting with the HMMS school administration’s discovery of what was occurring in this classroom, the KCBOE has done what it is legally and ethically required to do to ensure that the our most vulnerable students are protected. This is a truly unfortunate situation. We will continue to have contact with the parents involved and their counsel. We would also be happy to share our experience with the West Virginia State Legislature in order to make these cameras better used as tools to detect abuse and not just investigate suspected abuse or alleged abuse. Currently, the cameras are legally only permitted to be used once there is a suspicion or allegation of abuse. We are not permitted to monitor these cameras in any regular fashion the way we monitor other cameras in the schools. The KCBOE is deeply invested in the safety of its students and will be happy work with the Legislature to advance this cause.”
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