April 21, 2024

The Warren County Grand Jury handed down indictments Monday, June 12, including six to a Warren County Public Schools preschool teacher accused of hitting students. /File photo.

The Warren County Grand Jury on Monday (June 12) indicted former Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) preschool teacher Kayla Ann Bennett on six charges related to her mistreatment of children in her preschool class at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School.

Two of the charges are felonies; the remaining four are misdemeanors. The preschoolers, both under the age of five, are referred to in the charging documents as “W.O.” and “M.J.”

Counts One and Four each state that “Kayla Ann Bennett, on or about January 4, 2023, through May 5, 2023, “did unlawfully and feloniously, while being a person having custody of a child under the age of eighteen years, willfully or negligently cause or permit such child to be overworked, tortured, mutilated, beaten or cruelty treated, in violation of § 40.1-103 of the Code of Virginia.”

The charges are Class 6 felonies, which can be punished with a fine, jail up to 12 months, a fine and jail or 1-5years in prison, according to a staff member with the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney office.

Counts Two and Three, regard the child W.O.; Counts Five and Six regard the child M.J. Each count states that, “On or about January 4, 2023, through May 5, 2023, in the County of Warren, Kayla Ann Bennet “did unlawfully assault or assault and battery [victim] in violation of 18.2-57 of the Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended.” A guilty conviction of this Class 1 misdemeanor carries a minimum confinement of six months for each charge.

Warren County Public Schools (WCPS)issued a press release Monday evening stating that WCPS became aware of a complaint concerning Kayla Bennett on May 4, 2023, after which Child Protective Services and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office were immediately contacted and an investigation was begun.

Superintendent Dr. Chris Ballenger wrote in the release, “This has been devastating to the children and families directly impacted, but also to the broader school community. The classroom is a place where students should feel safe in an environment that is conducive to learning. Parents entrust their children to our care during the school day, and they should feel that their children are in a safe place.”

Ballenger said that the school system would continue working “with the families affected by these traumatic events and make meaningful changes to ensure that something like this never happens in our community again.”

“WCPS appreciates the investigative work conducted by the officers involved in the investigation and for helping to make our schools a safe place for students,” the statement said.

Parent Tyler Wright, who has two children in preschool at HJB, reached out to The Shaw Report on May 22, to express his concern and frustration after learning that his children had been exposed to mistreatment in their preschool class at HJB.

Because the investigation was ongoing, The Shaw Report did not release an article on what the Wright Family says they experienced. We agreed to wait until charges had been filed before publishing the story about Wright and the ordeal his family reportedly endured.
He stated that his children, ages 4 and 5, had to be interviewed by law enforcement investigators after Lisa Seal, the Pre-K program director, called to request that Wright ask his children if they had witnessed anything “unusual“ occurring in their classrooms.

Wright says his five-year-old reported that he had witnessed children getting hit with a pointer, a yardstick-like device with a giant hand attached that was used by the teacher to point out items on the board when she was instructing pupils.

The four-year-old Wright child reported to her father that she had, in fact, been struck by a teacher on the head and face, as well as getting yanked up or down. That child also reported witnessing other children get hit.

Wright said that upon talking to other parents, he learned that all of the children who reported incidents to their parents had very similar versions of what had happened in the classroom. He also said he was greatly appreciative of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputies who had interviewed his child and were working to build a case.

Finally, in frustration, he began, on May 19, posting information on social media about the treatment his children had witnessed and endured in the HJB preschool class. That afternoon, the school system put out a press release explaining that the school had been alerted to some complaints involving staff, and that an investigation had begun, and the staff members had been placed on paid leave.

Wright said, of the allegations, “What kills me the most is that I would drop my kids off at school every morning—and my daughter would whine a little—and the same lady that was smacking her would take her out of my arms.”

Today, Wright reaffirmed his fondness for the school and said his children will return there in the fall. “I went there and the school is great. It’s the superintendent who dropped this ball,” he wrote in an email. Wright is clear in his belief that the superintendent should be replaced for how the entire situation was handled.

Asked about advice for parents of affected students, he said that parents should “stay connected with their children”, stay in regular contact with the teacher and also “just drop in and have lunch with your kids when you can.”

This is a developing story that will be updated as the case moves through the legal system.

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