Four educators enter plea to not reporting suspected child abuse of a student

GALIEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Four educators from Three Oaks Elementary School pleaded guilty to a 93-day misdemeanor after they failed to report the suspected child abuse of a student attending the school.

Three Oaks Elementary school principal Heidi Clark, Three Oaks Elementary guidance counselor Matt Cook, Special Education Teacher Diane Balling and Three Oaks Elementary school teacher Sherrie Bender all pleaded guilty to one count of Failure to Report Suspected Child Abuse for not reporting the student’s weight, his aggressive behavior towards food and his physical well-being to officials.

All four were sentenced to probation until the end of the 2018 school year.  They also have to serve 100 hours of community service and pay fines ranging from $685 to $895.

A second count was dismissed, according to the Berrien County Prosecutor.

In August 2016, police began an investigation after a 12-year-old boy was found in Galien Township by a railroad worker near railroad tracks. Once the boy was in custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, a physician reported that they noticed certain signs that could indicate the boy was living in an abusive situation.

According to police, the boy at the time only weighed approximately 47 pounds, was bruised, dehydrated, had a cut lip and old cigarette burns on his body. In the initial investigation, the boy told police that he ran away because he “was tired being treated like a dog and he didn’t think he would reach his 13th birthday.”

Police report that the school noticed the boy’s condition almost two years prior from when he ran away but failed to report the signs.

Under the Michigan’s Child Protection Law, individuals are required to report suspicions of abuse to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The boy’s father, Aaron Zemke, and step-mother, Alicia Zemke, both were charged in this case for First Degree Child Abuse.

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