MOUNT GILEAD — Because of the “confusing nature” of the facts, Charles Howland, Morrow County prosecutor, has declined to file charges against two administrators and a teacher at Highland Elementary School after an investigation into whether or not they failed to report allegations of child abuse.
The investigation, conducted by Detective Marissa Gibson, Morrow County Sheriff’s Office, was “complete and thorough,” but after examining the file, Howland felt it best not to press charges, even though “the case has been made concerning the educators involved.”
“The alleged perpetrator of the abuse was not an adult,” Howland said in a press release. “This fact was a source of confusion to the educators. Further discussion of the facts will require disclosure of information concerning a juvenile that state law prohibits. All abuse situations are bad, however in the present situation the abuse issues have resulted in no physical injuries.”
Howland said the Morrow County Human Services is aware of the incident.
Even though no criminal charges have been filed, Howland said the three individuals could face disciplinary action for the Highland Board of Education or the state school board.
“The prosecutor’s decision in this matter should not be construed as disapproval of the investigation by the sheriff’s office or Highland Schools,” Howland said. “Their work in this matter was excellent. However, each case must be decided on its own merit and the confusing nature of the facts that make up this case was the deciding factor.”
Howland said there has been an ongoing tendency for school employees to not report cases of suspected abuse. To help turn the tide in these situations, he will send a letter to every school in Morrow County outlining an educator’s requirement to report abuse situations and the section of the Ohio Revised Code that goes with it.
“The Morrow County education community should take notice and be mindful that further violations of the duty to report statute will result in charges,” Howland said. “The county prosecutor will not accept the excuse of ‘I didn’t know I had to do that’ any longer. The protection of children is everyone’s business. Among the education community, the protection of children must be the first priority.”
The two principals, Shawn Winkelfoos and Debra Knechtly, were placed on administrative leave during the investigation. A call to the district office to confirm the status of the administrative leave was unreturned Monday afternoon.
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