A former employee at Highgate Elementary School is accused of having sex with a child several times. 33 year-old Josie Spears appeared before a judge Thursday via video in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington.
Spears and her defense team invoked the 24-hour rule, which gives her lawyers time to digest the newest charges, delaying her arraignment until Friday morning.
“These allegations have just been made; we really hadn’t the opportunity absorb them at all,” said Jessica Burke, who represents Spears.
The former teacher’s aide is being accused of sexually assaulting a 10 year-old boy, the same boy investigators say also received sexually explicit messages from the teacher earlier this year.
“We are not going to comment on an ongoing case, so we are going to keep that between her and I, and certainly she vehemently maintains her innocence and we will continue to persist in her defense,” said Burke.
Court documents show the child told investigators Spears engaged him in a sex act. The documents also allege Spears brought the boy to a staff room inside the school ‘hidden from cameras’. Investigators say the boy originally denied being inappropriately touched by Spears, but later told his therapist differently.
School officials say the Spears case has presented the district with a lot of challenges, but ones they are facing head on.
“It is very problematic for schools because it takes us off our mission of educating children and having to deal with a safe learning environment for them,” said Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Winton Goodrich.
Goodrich says all employees working across the district undergo an extensive hiring process, including a criminal background check through the FBI.
“Everyone working in all five of our schools have completed that successfully or they wouldn’t be here,” explained Goodrich.
Around 300 children go to Highgate Elementary. Moving forward Goodrich says he will continue to communicate with their parents and the community.
“The beauty of small communities is that schools are the hub and so when something like this happens, I won’t say it’s devastating, but it’s very damaging to the trust levels,” said Goodrich.
The Northwest Unit for Special Investigations handled the case.
If convicted on the newest charges, Spears could face life in prison.