Benton Harbor Charter Academy administrators charges dismissed

Two administrators of the Benton Harbor Charter School Academy are no longer facing charges in connection to an incident where a teacher threw a chair in a classroom.

It was back on Nov. 6, when Thomas Barnes threw a chair in an effort to regain control of his classroom. The chair struck and injured an 11-year-old student, according to 95.3 MNC’s reporting partners at ABC 57.

Barnes pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. His 30 day sentence was suspended and he will serve 9 months probation.

Principal Tim Harris, and Assistant Principal Ashley Smith were aware of the incident, but failed to report it to the Department of Health and Human Services on the day of the incident. With that, they were charged with failing to report child abuse.

Choice Schools Associates, who runs Benton Harbor Charter School Academy, organized a symposium on December 5 regarding reporting child abuse. A training was took place at the Benton Harbor Charter School Academy.

Because of the proactive steps taken to educate employees on the law, the prosecutor’s office decided to dismiss the charges against Harris and Smith, ABC 57 reported.

Read the full statement from the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office below:

On November 6, 2018 an incident occurred at the Benton Harbor Charter School Academy located at 455 Riverview Dr, Benton Harbor in which a teacher, Thomas Barnes, 49, of St. Joseph, threw a chair in anger in an attempt to get control of his classroom.  The chair struck an 11-year-old female student.  Barnes was charged and has plead guilty to Aggravated Assault. He was sentenced to nine months probation, a 30 day suspended sentence, and fines and costs.  Administrators at the school, Principal Tim Harris, and Assistant Principal Ashley Smith, both mandated reporters under Michigan’s Child Protection Law (MCL 722.261, et. seq.) in this circumstance, became aware of the incident but did not report it to the Department of Health and Human Services on the day of the incident.  Both were charged with the misdemeanor offense of Failing to Report Child Abuse.

As a result of these charges, Choice Schools Associates, the governing corporate entity for Benton Harbor Charter School Academy and 13 other charter schools state-wide, organized a symposium for their leadership at their schools on the topic of reporting child abuse.   The symposium was held in Troy, Michigan on December 5, 2018.  The symposium was planned in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services.  Also, a training was held locally at the Benton Harbor Charter School Academy on December 7 in coordination with Berrien County’s local DHHS office.

Mr. Harris and Ms. Smith participated actively in both trainings.

Some portions of the law emphasized were the following:

  1. Child abuse is harm or threatened harm….by a parent…teacher, or teacher’s aide.
  2. A mandated reporter includes school administrator, school counselor, or teacher.  Other school staff may report abuse to a mandated reporter or to DHHS.
  3. The standard for reporting is one “who has reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or neglect”. 
  4. The report shall be made immediately.
  5. A mandated report at a school must report to a person in charge, but it does not relieve that person from reporting it himself or herself.

Further, Choice Schools has committed to have a similar training for staff at the beginning of each school year hereafter.

As a result of action Choice Schools Associates has taken and their effort to correct any misconceptions of the law regarding mandated reporters, I have decided pursuit of prosecution against Mr. Harris and Ms. Smith is unnecessary and have dismissed their charges.  Their delay in reporting the incident in this case ultimately did not hamper the investigations of Barnes, which started later that day.  In addition, Barnes was placed on immediate suspension so children were not at risk given the administrators’ failure to report immediately.

If you suspect abuse or neglect, call 855-444-3911 any time day or night. This toll-free phone number allows you to report abuse or neglect of any child or adult.

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