Top two school administrators cited for failure to report child abuse

Top two school administrators cited for failure to report child abuse

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - Two school administrators in Paragould were ordered to appear in court for failing to report child abuse, according to documents filed in Greene County District Court. However, an attorney for the school district said the administrators did report the allegations.

According to court records, Paragould School Superintendent Debbie Smith and Assistant Superintendent Scott Gauntt failed to report "suspected maltreatment of the two specific male students" to the Arkansas State Police Child Abuse Hotline.

Court records stated that Nichole Winberry, who taught math at the high school, was suspended from her position on May 13, 2013. Records stated Gauntt interviewed two male students and a witness who took a picture of Winberry sitting in the lap of a student.

On May 21, 2013, Smith recommended Winberry be suspended by the school board for "sitting on male students lap, giving two male students necklaces made of money, kissing two male students on the cheeks, excessive texting to the two male students, showing up at two male students' work place, telling two male students she loved them, sending inappropriate content and an inappropriate photo to a male student, and acting speaking and writing in a suggestive and flirtatious manner toward male students."

The court record also stated that Smith is considered a mandated reporter and the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline has no record of Smith "or any other employee at Paragould School District reporting or attempting to report" the suspected abuse.

Donn Mixon, attorney for the Paragould School District, told Region 8 News that Smith and Gauntt reported the incident to the child abuse hotline.

In a statement, Mixon said Smith suspended Winberry in order to investigate the allegations. The day after the suspension, " Ms. Smith knew that Ms. Winberry's conduct could be seen as rising to the level of child abuse and was a violation of the ethical standards for educators," Mixon stated.

Mixon said Smith called the hotline on May 14, 2013.

"The hotline operator stated that the matter would not be accepted or investigated. Later, Ms. Smith submitted an ethics complaint to the ADE Licensure Board on their complaint form. She checked the box on that form indicating that she had called the hotline," stated Mixon.

Mixon emailed Region 8 News a copy of the Code of Ethics for Arkansas Educators Allegation of Violation Form signed on June 6, 2013. The form shows an "x" next to the question, "Did you report it to the Arkansas State Police Child Abuse Hotline?"

Mixon said he advised Smith through the investigative process and she noted that she made the call. Mixon sent a copy of a Freedom of Information Act request to Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tracye Walker for documents that show evidence against Smith and Gauntt. Mixon said Walker has not supplied any of the requested information.

Winberry went to Osceola High School after she resigned from Paragould in 2013. She was arrested on four counts of sexual assault and three counts of transportation of minors for prohibited sexual conduct. She faces 30 years in prison if she's convicted.

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