CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- A Chesterfield preschool teacher is accused of spanking special needs students, grabbing them by the back of the neck, pulling them to the floor, and smacking their faces, according to court documents obtained by CBS 6.
Chesterfield County Police have now charged Lisa Harbilas, a teacher at Chester Early Learning Academy, with twelve counts of simple assault.
According to the documents, a teacher's assistant to Harbilas witnessed the physical abuse against four separate students on November 29 and November 30 of 2022 after Harbilas became frustrated with the children, according to the documents.
The assistant then immediately reported the alleged assaults to the preschool's principal and assistant principal. She also filed a complaint with Child Protective Services on December 1, 2022, the documents showed.
A parent of one of the involved children said the school told her on December 16 that her child was allegedly abused by Harbilas and that Harbilas would be suspended.
The next time the parent got an update from the school about the case, she was told Harbilas was approved to return to work on March 7.
Upset with the outcome of the investigation, that parent went to Chesterfield County Police, noting her child's behavior has been negatively impacted by Harbilas' conduct.
According to Captain Michael Breeden, the parent's notification was the first time Chesterfield Police had ever been made aware of the alleged assaults. Chesterfield Schools and Child Protective Services never referred the case to law enforcement, he said.
Chesterfield Police executed a search warrant of Chesterfield County Public Schools to secure investigative records into Harbilas that were held by the school district.
During their execution of the warrant, police found records of a fifth student who was allegedly physically abused by Harbilas in August 2022, months before the four other students were reportedly spanked, slapped, and grabbed by Harbilas.
In the August incident, the warrant revealed that Harbilas pulled a student's hair and prevented the child from moving by placing her legs over top of the kid.
According to the warrant, the result of the school district's internal investigation into that incident was a reprimand.
Chesterfield father Matthew Wiler, who is not connected to the case, said he made a decision not to enroll his young child into preschool due to situations just like this.
“It’s just very, very disheartening and scary because it hits close to home," Wiler said. “This is hence the reason why my wife and myself made a decision to leave our child with my wife, because of so many issues.”
Breeden said the school district filed a complaint with CPS about the assault allegations, and this satisfied the school district's mandatory reporting requirements.
According to the state code, schools are required to report crimes that occur on school property to law enforcement when the offenses are suspected of resulting in a felony charge. For other offenses, such as misdemeanors, Breeden said the school district should notify law enforcement and/or CPS. Therefore, if the school reports the allegation to CPS, it fulfills its mandatory reporting duty.
However, Wiler said he believes schools should immediately report alleged assaults by school employees to the police.
"It should be instantly reported," he said. "It should protect people, so they don't have a situation like this happen again."
The state code also lays out when CPS, which falls under social services, shall report a case to law enforcement and the local Commonwealth's Attorney's office. That includes certain cases of suspected child abuse involving "any injury or threatened injury to a child involving a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor."
Simple assault is a class 1 misdemeanor.
“You would expect that this is something that should have been reported from the Department of Social Services to the Commonwealth's attorney and to law enforcement," said CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone about the state code. “That's mandatory language. They shall report it to the Commonwealth's attorney and law enforcement, but it doesn't, that I've seen, say what happens if they don’t.”
CBS 6 asked Chesterfield Social Services why CPS did not refer the case to the police.
Social Services Director Kiva Rogers said she could not answer specific questions about the case since it's still under investigation.
When asked who is responsible for overseeing CPS investigations, Rogers said, "This is not as cut and dry as you might think. The specifics of a particular allegation of abuse and/or neglect will determine if the case is investigated by CPS (Social Services) and/or law enforcement. As you noted, there are specific criteria that are followed to determine if law enforcement should be notified. CPS works very closely with the Police Department’s Special Victims Unit when working cases together."
Rogers said since the local Department of Social Services is state supervised, the Virginia Department of Social Services provides oversight to ensure compliance with laws and local guidance.
Wiler said the fact that two agencies that should be protecting children, schools and CPS, did not report the allegations to law enforcement was a systematic failure.
“There's too many loopholes, and as taxpaying citizens, we should feel that we're protected and our voices are heard," Wiler said.
Chesterfield County Public Schools has not responded to CBS 6's questions since Thursday.
The Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney's Office said it had no comment.
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