Dayton principal won't face charges


09-13-01
CHRIS SHACKLEFORD - Dayton Bureau
The Chattanooga Times-Free Press

DAYTON, Tenn. -- After investigating the paddling of a fifth-grade boy at Dayton City School, sheriff's officials have declined to file charges against principal Mike Latham.

On Aug. 27, the boy, who suffers from attention deficit disorder, was taken to the principal for disciplining. In the presence of two other school officials, Mr. Latham administered three swats with a wooden paddle, according to Rhea County Chief Deputy Charles Byrd.

The following day the boy's mother took her son to a doctor for treatment of bruises to his buttocks. She also contacted Children's Services and filed a complaint with the Dayton Police Department. The mother had given the school permission to use corporal punishment, but contends the force used was excessive.

Chief Byrd headed the investigation after the school and the city asked the Sheriff's Department to assist. After interviews, Chief Byrd said Child Protective Services advised that the case did not warrant a full investigation because the injuries were neither permanent nor life-threatening.

"We advised the mother that if she wanted to follow through and look at pressing criminal charges, she could do that. But we were not going to," Chief Byrd said, because the paddling was within guidelines of state law. He noted there were some discrepancies in statements given by the boy and his mother about whether the parent had earlier disciplined the child. "She denies it, but the boy initially told us that his mother had paddled him the weekend before," Chief Byrd said.

The mother and boy both met with Dayton Schools Superintendent Richard Fisher and Mr. Latham last week. Mr. Latham apologized to both at the time. In a written statement, the mother said she does not wish to see Mr. Latham or anyone else lose their job. "I just want to make sure that nothing like this happens to my child or any other child again," she stated. She also has asked that the school not administer corporal punishment to either of her children in the future, and has requested that her children be allowed to transfer to county-run Rhea Central Elementary School in Dayton.

Both children had been students at Rhea Central before the family moved from the county into Dayton and were zoned for the city school. Rhea County School policy does not allow city residents to attend county elementary schools.

E-mail Chris Shackleford at chriss@timesfreepress.com