KANAWHA COUNTY, WV (WOWK) – Kanawha County Schools is releasing a statement with more details regarding an investigation into a teacher and two aides from Horace Mann Middle School in Charleston who have been accused of alleged battery of two special needs students, including how the alleged abuse came to light.
The three staff members were accused in multiple civil complaints and one of the aides is facing criminal battery charges.
Severe/profound teacher Anthony Wilson and his aides Walter Pannell and Lilliana Branham, along with the Kanawha County Board of Education, were named in two civil complaints filed by guardians of two students who attend the school. One of the students has Cornelia DeLange Syndrome, and the other child has autism, ADHD and other mental disabilities, according to the complaints. Officials say both are nonverbal and need assistance with basic daily activities.
The letter from Kanawha County Schools begins:
The Kanawha County Board of Education is taking the allegations of abuse that occurred at Horace Mann Middle School (HMMS) very seriously, which is why immediately upon discovery HMMS and KCBOE reported the incident to law enforcement, child protective services, and the parents/guardians of the involved children. It is also why KCBOE continues to work with all involved in investigating the matters. That being said, the KCBOE feels that is important to explain to the public how it became aware of the alleged incidents at HMMS in order to alleviate doubt that the KCBOE is doing everything required and allowed by law to hold responsible parties accountable.
According to KCS, Assistant Principal Brittany Harris received a noise complaint on May 12, 2021, from the classroom during annual testing. When she went to the classroom, she said it first appeared through the door window as though the aide, whose back was to Harris, was “patting the student” who was sitting on a bean bag chair. When she entered, the aides appeared upset and the student she had seen on the bean bag chair was “agitated and spinning in circles,” Harris reported.
KCS says Harris told officials the teacher had been on the phone with the student’s guardian regarding their behavior. Harris also said the behavior she was seeing while in the classroom was “not typical” of the student.
No reports of alleged abuse had been made to the school’s administration at that time, according to KCS officials.
The letter from KCS states, “The only known prior report that would have caused a concern of a suspicion of abuse in the classroom was made to the classroom teacher, one of the alleged abusers.”
After Harris spoke with Principal Shandon Tweedy about what she witnessed in the classroom, Kanawha County Schools says Harris and Tweedy both began to suspect abuse due to the noise level, agitation in the classroom, the student’s “unusual behavior” and the alleged touch that Harris said had originally appeared as though the aid had been patting the student she first saw through the door window. They then reviewed the footage of the classroom, and Tweedy “called Charleston Police, State Police, Child Protective Services, Central Office, and the guardian of the child involved in the incident.”
At the time, only the footage of May 12 had been reviewed.
On May 17, the KCBOE received two letters from an attorney representing the student whose incident the KCBOE already knew of and also another student who the KCBOE says they did not know at the time had also been allegedly abused in the same classroom. The letters requested all footage of the classroom from May 1 through May 17 be saved.
The KCBOE then reviewed more footage, finding an alleged incident on May 4, and again called authorities.
Throughout the entirety of this matter, starting with the HMMS school administration’s discovery of what was occurring in this classroom, the KCBOE has done what it is legally and ethically required to do to ensure that our most vulnerable students are protected. This is a truly unfortunate situation. We will continue to have contact with the parents involved and their counsel. We would also be happy to share our experience with the West Virginia State Legislature in order to make these cameras better used as tools to detect abuse and not just investigate suspected abuse or alleged abuse. Currently, the cameras are legally only permitted to be used once there is a suspicion or allegation of abuse. We are not permitted to monitor these cameras in any regular fashion the way we monitor other cameras in the schools. The KCBOE is deeply invested in the safety of its students and will be happy to work with the Legislature to advance this cause.Kanawha County Schools