Emails: Investigation into bites on toddler taking several weeks

Barry County

MIDDLEVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Emails discussing a 2-year-old whose first day of school ended with a trip to the emergency room give clarity on why it’s taking so long to determine what happened.

They also appear to show little urgency in contacting the parents of other children who rode the bus with Lauren Hayes.

The Barry County toddler was enrolled at South Godwin Early Childhood Center, which is in Wyoming, after being diagnosed with moderate autism. Her parents came to News 8 after waiting more than a month for answers to who left bite marks and scratches all over their daughter during her first and only day at school Aug. 26. 

They’ve now waited nearly two months and are no closer to clarity. The Barry County Sheriff’s Department has been handling the criminal complaint after Wyoming police investigated Lauren’s time at school and determined the injuries didn’t happen at SGECC. 

Since the first story aired, Wyoming police confirmed the two agencies are once again working together. Barry County is solely focused on the bus rides, while Wyoming has jurisdiction over the school.

According to emails obtained from Thornapple Kellogg Schools through the Freedom of Information Act, photos from inside the bus were taken by Thornapple Kellogg’s director of special education and preschool two days after the incident. 

Most of the photos are redacted, but it’s clear the seats have harnesses inside the bus. The district told News 8 there’s no video from the bus that day because “the file had been corrupted”. The district is working with Michigan State Police to recover any video or audio, the FOIA response says.

The photos were sent to an officer with Wyoming police. A day after, the director said, “…will those photos I shared with you stay confidential? If the case happens to be dropped and the parents want to pursue something against the school will they have access to them?”

The officer said the photos were submitted to the Center for Child Protection, which is through Spectrum Health. The Hayes took Lauren to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital to be evaluated after their emergency room trip.

“We will not release the photos to the parents, only the written report if they request one,” the email said.

It appears Child Protective Services did not have contact with the district until more than two weeks after the incident, Sept. 13. The investigator initiated an email with the Thornapple Kellogg’s director and said in part, “I was wondering if you could provide me with the name and contact information for the parents of the [other] children on the bus. To be able to help determine if Lauren is safe at home, and in order to [complete] a thorough investigation I would like to speak with them.”

The director said she would touch base with other administration the following Wednesday, Sept. 16, but according to the email chain there was no additional follow up until the CPS investigator circled back on Oct. 3.

“Any luck on this?…” the children’s services specialist wrote more than five weeks after Lauren was injured. He said he successfully got in touch with one parent, but still needed to contact a second.

The director responded within two minutes: “Yes, I am so sorry! I have been dealing with a ton of other things and totally dropped the ball. My admin would like me to reach out to her and see what she remembers. Are you okay with that? Again, I promise I wasn’t avoiding you! I woke up in the middle of the night about this!!”

The investigator said he was OK with the director making contact with the parent whose child was also on the bus.

The following Monday, Oct. 7, the director said she spoke with the mother and “she didn’t notice anything else”. 

News 8 questioned CPS protocol in contacting people pertinent to an investigation. A representative for the state agency said, “CPS works in cooperation with others, including law enforcement, schools, medical staff, and other professionals when necessary to conduct a thorough investigation. Policy related to conducting investigations when schools are involved is here:

  • Caseworkers may make contact with children at school without parental consent. Schools and other institutions are required to cooperate, however; caseworkers must review the following with the designated school staff person (MCL 722.628(8) and (9)): 
  • Prior to interview, discuss the department’s responsibilities and the investigation procedure.
  • Following the interview, discuss response the department will take as a result of contact with the child. Sharing of information is subject to confidentiality provisions;
  • Following interview of a child at school or other institution, the caseworker must notify a parent or guardian that the child was interviewed”

News 8 has since requested additional emails from the district to determine if the CPS investigator did his own follow up with the parent. A request for emails is also pending with Kent Intermediate School District, which oversees the program Lauren was enrolled in for one day before being injured.

Below, additional responses from CPS:

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