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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The Santa Fe mayor on Thursday became the most recent person to weigh in on controversial criminal charges against a middle school teacher for throwing books at students. The charges have rocked the city and pitted school officials against the police.
Mayor Javier Gonzales said he didn't want to judge a situation still under investigation but supports investigating any possible crime against a child, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports (http://bit.ly/1cDhw7v).
"I want to be very clear: The safety of Santa Fe's children is paramount, end of story," Gonzales said. "I don't see how we could have it any other way."
De Vargas Middle School teacher Marcy Slaughter is accused of throwing paperback books at four students, hitting two of them, after they disobeyed her orders on April 30.
The children weren't injured aside from some reported redness that faded within a few hours.
Police charged Slaughter with child abuse and Principal Marc Ducharme with misdemeanor obstruction for not reporting the incident, causing some to question whether such issues should be handled within the school system or by law enforcement.
Superintendent Joel Boyd called the charge against Ducharme "perplexing and aberrant."
But Police Chief Eric Garcia defended the charges.
"I know there's some uproar about this, and I understand that, but at the end of the day, we have to respond to the calls for service," he said.
Most states, including New Mexico, have laws mandating that adults report possible child abuse to child protective services or a law enforcement agency, said University of Connecticut clinical psychology professor Seth Kalichman.
"It's not the principal's role to decide whether or not it's abuse," he said. "Principals and teachers don't define what's abuse."
But others, like former Albuquerque prosecutor and current Democratic state representative Antonio "Moe" Maestas, said the paperback-throwing "simply doesn't rise to the level of a crime."
Mary Leary, a law professor at Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law, agreed.
"The presence of police on campus does tend to criminalize today what a generation ago we called immaturity or we called discipline, or control of a classroom," she said.
In his Thursday statement, the mayor recalled a 9-year-old boy beaten to death in Bernalillo County in 2013.
Officials had previously investigated complaints of abuse in the boy's home. Gonzalez said it was a lesson to take allegations of harm against children seriously.
"These are not comfortable conversations for anyone," he said, "but if we sweep them under the rug we are failing our kids and inviting greater tragedy down the road. It's a risk I'm not going to take."
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com
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