CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va -- A parent whose child was allegedly assaulted by a preschool teacher in Chesterfield County said she felt failed by the system after it took several months for misdemeanor simple assault charges to be placed against the teacher.
In August and November 2022, Chesterfield County Police said Lisa Harbilas, a teacher at Chester Early Childhood Learning Academy, physically assaulted at least five children, all ages five and younger, on separate occasions. A parent said all children in that classroom were classified as special needs students.
Though the assaults allegedly occurred five to eight months ago, police said they were not notified of any assaults until parents brought the allegations to their attention in March 2023.
“The parents had already reported this to the school, and they were not satisfied with the results that they were given. So then they reached out to us to report the assault and battery," Chesterfield Police Captain Michael Breeden said. "When the detectives started investigating, they uncovered all those incidents from the same teacher that occurred between August and November. Then the detective went to the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office and ran it by and then that's where they came up with the twelve misdemeanor warrants."
CBS 6 spoke with a parent involved in the case who requested anonymity to protect the privacy of her child.
The parent said the school notified her in December 2022 that her child was allegedly assaulted in November 2022 and that Harbilas would be out of the classroom.
The parent said she was not given any information related to the nature of the assault.
She said she trusted the school district to handle the situation. But in March 2023, she said the school district followed up that the investigation into Harbilas was cleared.
She said parents were upset that Harbilas would be returning to the classroom and that's when they went to the police.
Breeden said even though the school district did not alert police about the alleged assaults, the school district did not violate mandatory reporting laws or the memorandum of understanding between the Chesterfield School Board and Chesterfield Police Department.
“I don’t see where the schools did anything wrong in this particular instance," Breeden said.
Breeden said schools must report offenses that constitute a felony to law enforcement.
This case involved all misdemeanors.
For other offenses, Breeden said schools must contact Chesterfield Police and/or Chesterfield Child Protective Services (CPS). Therefore, as long as the school district contacted at least one of the two agencies, he said the district was compliant with the state code.
Generally speaking, Breeden said if schools submit a complaint to CPS, CPS will review it and then send it to the police.
"Typically, what CPS does is they flesh all that stuff out and look at it, and then they send it to us," Breeden said.
But Breeden said CPS did not notify police about any of the assaults at the preschool.
CBS 6 sent multiple questions to CPS to find out how the agency investigated the assaults, if it cleared Harbilas of all alleged assaults against the five students, and why it didn't notify law enforcement.
In response, Chesterfield Social Services, the umbrella agency for CPS, said, "We are not able to confirm or deny our involvement with any individual case. In general, CPS allegations against public school employees have additional considerations which go beyond the normal procedures and requirements for CPS investigations. Allegations against a public school employee require additional validity requirement in addition to the four validity criteria for all CPS complaints or reports."
According to the state code, CPS must report certain cases of suspected child abuse or neglect to the local Commonwealth's Attorney's office and local law enforcement agency including "any injury or threatened injury to a child involving a felony or Class I misdemeanor."
Simple assault is a Class I misdemeanor.
CBS 6 has sent multiple questions to Chesterfield County Public Schools for two days now.
We've received no responses other than a one-sentence statement reading, "The employee will not return to the school division pending adjudication of the charges.”
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