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Crime and Public Safety |
Colorado middle school principal, 2 other staffers charged with failing to report suspected child abuse

Alleged child abuse complaints stemmed from concerns about Elizabeth Middle School teacher last school year

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 22: Jessica Seaman - Staff portraits at the Denver Post studio.  (Photo by Eric Lutzens/The Denver Post)

The principal of Elizabeth Middle School and two other staffers are facing criminal charges of not reporting suspected child abuse after they allegedly failed to notify law enforcement of students’ complaints about a teacher earlier this year.

The three staff members — identified by the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office as Principal Brett Michel, Assistant Principal Jeff Sparrow and school counselor Shannon Paxton — had been on administrative leave for nearly a month while law enforcement and the Elizabeth School District investigated the allegations, the district said in a news release Thursday.

The school district also announced it was ending the three staff members’ employment, pending approval by the Board of Education at its Monday meeting.

“While we recognize these individuals’ many positive, past contributions to the school community, we have high expectations that our staff will follow legal expectations and board policies in keeping our students safe and investigating any and all reports of concerning behavior,” district Superintendent Dan Snowberger said in a statement.

The teacher involved in the suspected child abuse, who has not been publicly identified or charged, remains on administrative leave during the 18th Judicial District’s criminal investigation of the allegations, the district said.

The specific allegations against the teacher have not been made public.

On Sept. 26, Snowberger received calls from both Elizabeth police Chief Jeff Engel and the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office about a complaint filed with law enforcement regarding a middle school teacher stemming from concerns the previous school year, according to the district.

Snowberger placed the teacher on leave the next morning, the district said.

Elizabeth School District officials say they had not been made aware of the concerns reported to administrators at the middle school — located about 40 miles southeast of Denver — before the law enforcement investigation.

Once law enforcement officials had finished their interviews, Snowberger began a district investigation and interviewed staff, students and parents.

Based on those interviews, the district said in a statement, Snowberger “found a number of concerns involving staff adherence to district policies and law regarding the mandatory reporting requirement when receiving allegations that involved a child.”

Colorado is a mandatory reporting state, and the punishment for not reporting could be a fine of $750 and/or imprisonment of up to six months. Michel, Sparrow and Paxton each are facing one count of failure to report suspected child abuse.

Superintendents are required to notify the Colorado Department of Education when local authorities “reasonably believe” that an incident of child abuse or neglect has occurred and a district employee is suspected, according to the agency’s website.

It’s unclear whether the case at Elizabeth Middle School has been reported to the department. Jeremy Meyer, a spokesman for the education department, declined to comment on an ongoing investigation.

School districts are also required to file a report with the Department of Education if an employee is fired or has resigned because they have been accused of unlawful behavior involving a child and the allegations are “supported by a preponderance of evidence.” Districts have to make the report within 10 business days of the employee’s dismissal, according to the state agency.

Michel, Sparrow and Paxton were placed on leave Nov. 8, and, following the announcement of the charges against them, will no longer be employed by the school district pending school board approval, according to the district’s Thursday news release.

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