Instructors charged in child abuse investigation

YORK COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) – The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office has arrested two people in an investigation into child abuse at a York County school.

Lt. Dennis Ivey with the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office told an investigation is underway at the New Horizons Center for Autism in York County. The campus under investigation is located at Yorktown Middle School.

Four potential victims of physical abuse have been identified by deputies, and two staff members are currently under investigation. Child Protective Services was also investigating the claims.

Tuesday, deputies announced the arrests of Diane “Renee” Smith, 45, of Hampton and Darcie Badami, 35, of Yorktown. Both are charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Smith is also charged with assault and battery.

Diane Renee Smith, photo courtesy Hampton Police.
Diane Renee Smith, photo courtesy Hampton Police.

According to deputies, a staff member reported witnessing an assault on a special needs student on May 16. She said she heard a child screaming in a classroom and when she entered the room, she saw a teaching assistant chasing the 13-year-old student around the room.

The witness said the teaching assistant began to poke the teen several times with a pushpin in the arm after catching him. She then used a cleaning wipe on the wounds, causing further pain.

Additionally, deputies say the witness heard another teacher in the room conspiring with the assistant to cover up the incident by saying the pushpin marks were bug bites.

“The investigation is ongoing to make sure that there are no other victims,” the sheriff’s office said in a release.

Joseph Johnson with New Horizons Regional Education Centers told staff members involved in the investigation were on leave and that the center was cooperating with authorities.

According to its website, New Horizons is a public facility owned and operated by six peninsula school divisions. Five teachers, a behavior specialist, and a teacher specialist work at the York County location.

New Horizons Center for Autism in York County, Va. WAVY/Rob Rizzo)
New Horizons Center for Autism in York County, Va. WAVY/Rob Rizzo)

A representative from York County Public Schools said the center is separate from the middle school and no York County staff or students were involved in the investigation.

According to the sheriff’s office, three of the possible victims were still attending the program and one has withdrawn from the program. However, Johnson told no students have been removed from the program.

Johnson sent the following statement Tuesday:

The New Horizons Center for Autism (CFA) responded in a timely and decisive manner to the reported information. We continue work in full cooperation with The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office and Child Protective Services in this investigation. Student safety and treatment is a priority, we consider this a very serious matter and will take all appropriate disciplinary and corrective actions. It would be inappropriate for me to discuss any further details of this ongoing investigation. Again, this incident only took place at the NHREC CFA York Middle School site. was unable to reach Smith or Badami for comment Tuesday.

Stay with for more on this developing story.

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