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Four educators charged with failure to report suspected child abuse

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. -

Berrien County Michael Sepic announced Friday four educators at Three Oaks Elementary School have been charged for allegedly failing to report suspected child abuse as required by Michigan law.

On August 11, 2016, a 12-year-old boy who had been reported missing the day before was found near railroad tracks in Galien Township.

Police took custody of the boy and placed him with the Department of Health and Human Services.

A physician examined the boy and reported he weighed 47-pounds, was bruised, dehydrated and exceptionally skinny. The boy also had a cut lip and old cigarette burns, according to the prosecutor's office.

The 12-year-old told police his mother and father didn't allow him to eat. He told police he ran away because “was tired being treated like a dog and he didn’t think he would reach his 13th birthday.”

The boy's father, Aaron Zemke, and stepmother, Alicia Zemke, were charged in the case. Both pleaded no contest to child abuse first degree. They each received a sentence of 20 to 80 years in prison, Sepic stated.

Sepic stated there were educators at the boy's school, Three Oaks Elementary, who suspected abuse but did not report it to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The staff members who are facing charges include:

  • Heidi Clark, Three Oaks Elementary School principal
  • Matt Cook Three Oaks Elementary School guidance counselor
  • Diane Balling, Three Oaks Elementary School special education teacher
  • Sherrie Bender, Three Oaks Elementary School teacher

Sepic alleges the staff members all had information, which was shared between them, that related to the boy's body weight, aggressive behavior in obtaining food, and physical well-being over an extended period of time.

Each is charged with two counts of failing to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The first charge is for a time period in 2015 and the second charge is for a time period in 2016.

All counts are 93 day misdemeanors.

Pre-trial conferences for the four are set for the week of June 5

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