SANTA FE – The principal of Santa Fe’s De Vargas Middle School has joined one of his teachers on the criminal court docket after the teacher allegedly threw three small paperback books that hit two students.
Principal Marc Ducharme, 49, has been charged in Magistrate Court with a count of obstruction of reporting or investigation of child abuse, for failing to report the book-throwing incident to police. The charge against Ducharme is a misdemeanor, but the teacher faces two felony counts.
A criminal complaint filed by a Santa Fe police officer says that when asked why he didn’t report the book-tossing to law enforcement, Ducharme said that “based on common school practice, if there is an altercation at the school where medical assistance is not required, then law enforcement is not contacted and the incident is handled internally.”
Teacher Marcy Slaughter previously was charged with two counts of child abuse not resulting in death or great bodily harm for the April 30 incident.
The charges against her are third-degree felonies – punishable by up to three years in prison and fines up to $5,000 on each count.
Slaughter, a language arts teacher who has been nominated for a “Teachers Who Inspire” award, has been placed on administrative leave, according to a Santa Fe Public Schools spokeswoman.
“On a daily basis educators face judgment calls and we have to be cautious about subjecting our principals to criminal charges,” said district chief of staff Latifah Phillips. “Student safety remains our top priority. We also are committed to completing a thorough investigation before determining any final action.”
Lt. Andrea Dobyns of the Santa Fe Police Department, which filed the criminal complaints in the case, provided this comment: “Our officers completed their investigation. Our priority is to ensure the safety of the children and the community.”
Slaughter is accused of throwing the paperbacks at students as they were walking out of class after a fire drill at the end of the school day.
According to the criminal complaint against Slaughter, students told police most of the class “was being rowdy and refusing to be quiet” after the fire drill and Slaughter told students to sit down.
When the school day’s final bell rang moments later and students in the eighth-grade class began to get up, the teacher again ordered them to sit.
At this point, according to eighth-grader Infinity Sanchez-Vigil, a male student told Slaughter it was “illegal” for the teacher to hold the class past the bell.
Four students, including Sanchez-Vigil, then started to walk out. Sanchez-Vigil reported that she saw Slaughter take something off a shelf, and then she was hit on the left side of her face and her left shoulder by paperback books. Another girl was also hit with one of the small paperbacks, the complaint says.
Sanchez-Vigil noticed a while later that her face had redness and she sent a cellphone picture to her mother, Carmen Arrietta.
The mother and daughter met with police the next day, May 1, at the school to report the book-throwing. The other girl who was hit with a book, on the right shoulder, confirmed Sanchez-Vigil’s account.
The police statement adds, “Infinity now knows it is not illegal to be kept by the teacher after the school bell rang and that she only walked out because she was worried about missing the school bus home.”
The responding officer tried to talk to Slaughter, but she told Ducharme she’d been advised by her attorney “not to make any statements to law enforcement at this time.”
The criminal complaint against Ducharme says the principal told the officer he had reported the incident to an associate superintendent and the school district’s human resources department, and that the associate superintendent told Ducharme that there would be a meeting set up with the parents of affected students.
Arrietta, Infinity’s mother, told KOB-TV that the school principal wanted to resolve the situation with a simple apology from the teacher. But she wasn’t satisfied, so she called the state Children, Youth and Families Department, the Public Education Department and Santa Fe police, Arrietta told KOB.
“I don’t think that kids … any kid should have to be assaulted by anybody, whether it’s at home or at school, anywhere. That teaches our kids that violence is OK,” Arrietta told the television station.
Santa Fe schools’ Phillips said earlier this week that the school initially conducted a preliminary investigation before the matter was turned over to human resources. “That’s our standard procedure for such an allegation,” Phillips said.