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Charges dropped in Hernando County school slapping case

BROOKSVILLE — Prosecutors have dropped charges against a former Hernando County substitute teacher who was accused of getting into a physical altercation with a 12-year-old student.

Chandra Bennington, 34, of Spring Hill learned the misdemeanor battery charge had been dismissed when she went to the courthouse Wednesday morning.

"I feel so much better now," Bennington said. "Better than I had been feeling."

According to the incident report, Bennington was charged after she and the student got into an argument during class at Explorer K-8 School on March 13. The student, who isn't being named because he is a juvenile, asked Bennington if he could be excused from class to speak with a friend on another floor of the school.

When Bennington refused, the boy loudly protested, according to the report. Five student witnesses said Bennington then approached the student at his desk, screamed at him and slapped him hard enough that "a smacking sound" was heard.

Bennington later disputed that version of events.

On Wednesday, Bennington said she only "tapped" the boy and that he was trying to exact revenge against her for previously punishing him.

"He did this as a way to get back at me," Bennington said. "I tapped him … but that was it. And I learned a lesson from it."

Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee, the supervising prosecutor in Brooksville, said the teacher — through the legal standard "in loco parentis" — held custodial authority for the boy, including authority to discipline him. "So while it certainly may have violated School Board policies, it didn't violate the law," he said.

In December 2007, prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor battery charge against Christopher O'Brien, a Hernando County school bus driver who allegedly spanked a 3-year-old girl after she refused to get into her seat.

Barbee said teachers — like parents — can face child abuse charges, depending on the seriousness of the incident. He said the incident involving Bennington did not meet the level justifying criminal charges.

Bennington said she had been looking for work since the incident and was hopeful that she would be able to work again in both the Hernando and Pasco County school districts.

"That's my immediate plan," Bennington said. "I want to get back to work."

School officials had said Bennington, who started working in Hernando in July, was no longer eligible to work in the county as a substitute teacher. She was also suspended from working in Pasco until the case was resolved.

Times staff writer John Frank contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Charges dropped in Hernando County school slapping case 04/16/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 16, 2009 7:58pm]
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