Category Archives: Teacher

TN Educators Not Reporting Suspected Abuse Pt-2 of 2

.jpg photo of school investigated for Child Sexual Abuse
Brentwood Academy, a school for Nashville’s elite.

Lack of reporting of suspected Child Abuse by schools an ‘epidemic,’ prosecutors say

Thousands of Tennessee schoolchildren may be vulnerable because of lax reporting and investigating of possible child abuse, according to the findings of a Tennessean investigation.

‘We have one shot to get a good statement’

There are several reasons an educator might not report an abuse suspicion directly to police or child services, said Kristen Houser, spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

“Sometimes, people err on the wrong side; they think they want more information to feel more sure that it’s real before they report it.  Frankly, that’s really dangerous,” Houser said.

Crump, who serves as prosecutor for Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties, said school officials could divulge information to the possible perpetrator, posing a safety risk to an abused child.

School officials are not trained as forensic investigators, so trying to interview a student about possible abuse can have other drastic consequences.

“We have one shot to get a good statement from a child,” Crump said.

The student may not tell a school official everything that happened, Crump said.  That could create conflicting statements in the future, or push the school to decide there is no problem when in fact abuse occurred.

Crump knows of one case in which a counselor decided no abuse occurred, but police and Crump’s office filed charges after conducting their own investigation.

‘I’d go with more of a carrot than a stick’

Scott Berkowitz, executive director of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, said schools nationwide must tell teachers to report directly to authorities if they even suspect abuse.

More training for all educators may work better than prosecuting those who do not report, he said.

“I’d go with more of a carrot than a stick on this,” Berkowitz said.

Crump said he’s spoken in schools, telling teachers to go directly to school resource officers once they suspect abuse.

But these officers are typically not in private schools like Brentwood Academy.

While Brentwood Academy officials have said all of their staff is trained on mandatory reporting, the student handbook lays out a conflict resolution process that does not specifically mention what to do if sex abuse is suspected.

There can be broader, cultural issues when it comes to abuse and reporting in private schools, said Houser, the spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

“Whenever you end up with an environment that really prides itself on being elite, it can sow some seeds, because you have other priorities that are (seen) as most important,” Houser said.

“Those are vulnerabilities an offender can then exploit to perpetuate abuse and protect themselves.”

Tennessee child abuse hotline

Any adult who suspects or knows of child abuse in Tennessee is required by law to notify the Department of Children’s Services or local law enforcement.  The DCS abuse hotline is 877-237-0004.

Who is reporting child abuse?

While some states require only professionals, such as teachers or doctors, to report child abuse, Tennessee requires any person who suspects any form of child abuse to report it to child services or the police.

In 63 percent of cases across the country, professionals report the abuse, according to the 2015 Child Maltreatment report from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Here’s a breakdown of who submits reports for cases that received an investigation or some form of response.

  • Education personnel: 18.4 percent
  • Legal, law enforcement personnel: 18.2 percent
  • Social services personnel: 10.9 percent
  • Parents: 6.8 percent
  • Relatives: 6.8 percent
  • Anonymous sources: 7.4 percent

TN Educators Not Reporting Suspected Abuse Pt-1 of 2

.jpg photo of school investigated for Child Sexual Abuse
Brentwood Academy, a school for Nashville’s elite.

Lack of reporting of suspected Child Abuse by schools an ‘epidemic,’ prosecutors say

Exactly when Brentwood Academy officials learned of allegations of the rape and sexual assault of a 12-year-old boy by other students at the school, and when they informed law enforcement of what they knew, is disputed.

The allegations against the elite Christian private school outlined in a $30 million lawsuit illustrate what some say is a systemic problem across the state.

Thousands of Tennessee schoolchildren may be vulnerable because of lax reporting and investigating of possible child abuse, according to the findings of a Tennessean investigation.

State law mandates any adult with a suspicion or direct knowledge of child abuse must report it immediately to either child services or the police.  Not doing so is a misdemeanor and could mean jail time.

However, two prosecutors say the failure of principals, counselors and teachers to report suspected abuse to proper authorities is widespread.

“The lack of reporting from schools here in Davidson County and probably surrounding counties has become an epidemic,” said Chad Butler, a child sex abuse prosecutor in Davidson County.

“It’s happening so frequently that I can’t help but think it’s not a coincidence.”

Stephen Crump, a Republican prosecutor in East Tennessee, said the problem is a cultural issue in education.  School officials often want to investigate the alleged abuse instead of immediately reporting it.

“I can’t teach the math of my kids in high school.  (Schools) aren’t trained to do investigations.  They will overlook things,” Crump said.

‘I know they’re telling their staff not to report’

Brentwood Academy officials deny wrongdoing, saying they reported what they knew to appropriate authorities at the time.

Brentwood police said the department is investigating allegations of attacks on the boy in the locker room at the academy.  That investigation does not include school officials for failure to properly report the attacks, as alleged in the lawsuit.

Kim Helper, the district attorney for Williamson County, said she didn’t think non-reporting was a local issue and she can’t remember any recent prosecutions for non-reporting.

In Nashville, however, Metro police investigate any reporting law violations if there is a suspicion school officials didn’t notify the proper authorities, confirmed police spokesman Don Aaron.

There are active investigations involving Davidson County schools not properly reporting suspected abuse.

“I know they’re telling their staff not to report. … I know for a fact that’s what they’re doing,” Butler said.

“It’s gotten to the point in our office where we’re just going to start prosecuting them.”

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services opened a new investigation Wednesday into allegations at Brentwood Academy, a school for Nashville’s elite with annual tuition nearly $25,000.  The school has produced at least 10 NFL players.

DCS was unaware of possible child abuse reporting concerns involving Nashville public schools until contacted by The Tennessean.

“In the rare instances that we learn that someone who should have called us did not, we share that information with the local district attorney general’s office to see if its staff wants to prosecute.  That would be the DA’s call, not ours,” DCS spokesman Rob Johnson said in an email.

“We are reaching out to the Davidson County District Attorney General’s office to see what their staff’s specific concerns are about those who do not report child abuse.”

‘I don’t think I’ve gotten explicit instructions’

Metro Nashville Public Schools instructs principals to review abuse reporting policies at the start of every school year, said Tony Majors, executive officer of student services.

“If you have reason to suspect, whether that be visual, behaviors that you observed or a direct statement you’ve received, then you should notify DCS.  It’s DCS’ responsibility to investigate,” Majors said in a Friday interview.

Majors and an MNPS spokeswoman declined to comment on Butler’s statements.  But Majors acknowledged some principals in recent years “misinterpreted” the policy, telling educators to inform administrators first before notifying DCS or law enforcement of suspected abuse.

That confusion could stem from the wording in MNPS’ policy. Principals are listed before DCS on a list of authorities educators should contact if they suspect abuse.

When informed of the list order by The Tennessean, Majors said it was not intended to be chronological but “now that you’ve brought that to my attention we’ll go back and change the policy.”

Majors said the training includes telling teachers DCS’ child abuse hotline number.  Even though the training is required, Majors said the administration isn’t ensuring such training occurs in every school.

Nashville teachers who spoke with The Tennessean said they were told to first contact school counselors, not police or child services, when they suspect abuse.

“I don’t think I’ve gotten explicit instructions on how to file with DCS,” said an MNPS teacher, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the policy.

“If you believe there is any abuse, you are legally obligated to report it.  But that is within the school.”

This teacher, who’s been employed by the district since 2010, said teachers have seen mixed results in reporting abuse to a counselor.

Instead, teachers will look for an adult at the school who is close to the student and try to learn more about the circumstances, the teacher said.  Once the student feels comfortable, then the teacher said together they will approach a counselor or principal.

While this approach may be well-intentioned, Crump said it could not only compromise a criminal investigation but create the potential for a child to be hurt again. 

TX Teacher Charged With Biting Special Needs Student

.jpg photo of teacher accused of abusing special needs child
Kirsten Barnett, 25

Abilene teacher accused of biting student resigns

ABILENE, TX  –  An Abilene preschool teacher accused of biting a 4-year-old autistic student has resigned, the Abilene Independent School District said in a statement Wednesday.

Kirsten Barnett, 25, is charged with injury to a child, a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

She was arrested and released from the Taylor County Jail on Tuesday on a $5,000 bond, according to jail records.

The school district placed Barnett on paid administrative leave Feb. 2, said Philip Ashby, AISD spokesman, in an email.  She remained on paid leave until she resigned April 7.

Barnett allegedly bit the 4-year-old student Feb. 1, while trying to move the student from the sand where the child was playing to the math area, according to court documents.

The student did not want to go and dropped to the floor, where Barnett reportedly pulled the child onto her lap and placed him in a restraining hold, court documents state.

The child began to squirm and push against Barnett, and then she bent down and bit the student on his cheek by his ear, according to court documents.  The child then yelled out.

A teacher’s aide who said she saw what happened saw the bite mark on the student’s face, court documents state.

Barnett worked at the Locust Early Childhood Center, according to a staff directory, until she resigned.

“When the allegations first came to the school’s attention, administrators acted swiftly to report the incident to the Abilene Police Department.  The teacher was immediately placed on leave during the course of the police investigation and has not returned to the classroom or interacted with students again,” the district said in a statement.  “The safety of our students is our top priority, and we are grateful for the immediate reporting by witnesses and for the cooperation from the Abilene Police Department.”

All Violent Crime Is Terrorism

.jpg photo of Child killed at school
Jonathan Martinez, 8

Family Mourns 8-Year-Old Shot in Murder-
Suicide in His Special Needs Classroom

‘Our Family Angel’

That’s how relatives are remembering 8-year-old Jonathan Martinez, a student who was shot and killed on Monday at an elementary school in San Bernardino, California.

Police say Jonathan was one of two students hit in the gunfire at North Park Elementary — though their teacher, 53-year-old Karen Elaine Smith, was the target.

Smith’s “estranged” husband, Cedric Anderson, came to her special education classroom just before 10:30 a.m. and opened fire on her without saying a word, according to police.  He then shot and killed himself.

Jonathan and another boy, 9, were behind Smith at the time and were also hit, police said.

Jonathan died.  The 9-year-old survived and was in stable condition, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan told reporters on Tuesday.

Burguan said the wounded boy “is doing better and the last report we have, all things considered, [is that] he is in relatively good spirits.”

PEOPLE was not immediately able to reach relatives of Jonathan, who authorities said had Williams syndrome — a genetic condition characterized by medical problems including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning disabilities.

San Bernardino City Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Dale Marsden said at a Tuesday news conference that he had met with the Martinez family following the shooting.

“By all accounts Jonathan Martinez was a happy child,” he said.

Marsden added, “The family wants, in memory of Jonathan, for our nation to be aware and conscious of what is Williams Syndrome. … Parents often say the joy and perspective that the child with this syndrome brings into their lives had been unimaginable.”

Some family members also appeared to take to social media and the Internet to mourn.

In a GoFundMe created by a cousin, Jonathan was described as the “family angel.”

TX Volleyball Coach Found Guilty

.jpg photo of Coach found guilty of Child Sex Abuse
Damian Merrick

Former volleyball coach found guilty of
Child Sexual Assault

Dallas, TX  –  A former Grapevine volleyball coach has been found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenage girl and drug offenses.

Volleyball Club Owner Arrested Again

Damian Merrick was facing two charges of child sexual assault after he was accused of raping two girls, but he was only found guilty on one count.  He was also found guilty providing marijuana to the teen girls.

Jurors spent most of the day on Friday deliberating before reaching a guilty verdict.

Prosecutors argued that Merrick used alcohol and drugs to lure the teens during a team trip to Colorado.

Defense attorneys argued before the jury that Merrick had lost everything but his freedom.  During closing arguments, the defense told the jury the state had left too much reasonable doubt.  They pointed to inconsistent stories by two girls who testified Merrick sexually assaulted them when they were 16 and played on his volleyball team.

The jury deliberated for nearly 7 hours before reaching their verdict.

During closing arguments, attorneys from both sides made their points with the jury.

A Grapevine police detective testified Merrick had a sexual relationship with one of those girls for three months and raped a second girl in the bathroom at her friend’s house.

Merrick’s daughter tried to defend him.  She spoke on his behalf and said he never gave her drugs or alcohol, but she broke down crying after prosecutors poked holes in her testimony.

The judge began testimony of the punishment phase of the trial Friday afternoon.