Principal, counselor and two teachers charged with failing to notice child abuse and neglect

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ST. JOSEPH, Mich. – The Berrien County Prosecutor is charging four educators for failing to report the abuse of a child in 2015 and 2016.

Michael Sepic made the announcement Friday morning.

The case stems from a case where a 12-year-old boy was found August 11, 2016 near some railroad tracks in Galien Township. The boy had run away from home and weighed 47 pounds. He was found to also be bruised, dehydrated, and to have suffered injuries of a cut lip and cigarette burns.  The boy was exceptionally skinny and each rib could be seen.  The boy told police that his father and step-mother had kept him from eating and he ran away because he “was tired being treated like a dog and he didn’t think he would reach his 13th birthday.”

The boy’s father and step-mother, Aaron and Alicia Zemke were arrested and charged with child abuse and other charges. They pleaded “no contest” and are now serving sentences of between 20 and 80 years.

Through the investigation, the prosecutor determined that school personnel at Three Oaks Elementary allegedly had noticed the boy’s condition and not filed reports to the Department of Health and Human Services or police. The prosecutor alleges the four should have noticed things like the boy’s weight, his aggressive behavior in obtaining food and his physical well-being over time.

Heidi Clark, the principal, Matt Cook, the guidance counselor, Diane Balling, a special education teacher and Sherrie Bender, a teacher, have all been charged with two counts of Failing to Report Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect.  One count is for instances in 2015 and the other for instances in 2016. Each count is a 93 day misdemeanor.

The four will next be in court during the week of June 5.


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