WOODSTOCK – A former preschool teacher accused of assaulting a student at a local child care facility will avoid jail time for her charges, so long as she testifies in the case against a co-defendant in the incident.
Katie LeDane, 21, pleaded guilty under an Alford plea Wednesday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court to four misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor that were lowered from felony cruelty to children charges, and two misdemeanor counts of assault and battery.
An Alford plea means the defendant does not agree with all the facts in the case, but takes a plea deal to avoid going to trial where they could receive a harsher penalty.
In exchange for the pleas, LeDane was sentenced to one year of incarceration for each of the six charges, with all of it suspended, and one year of unsupervised probation.
LeDane is not allowed to work in any job or profession involving the care or supervision of any child and must also testify in the cases against Jamie Jill Pence, who was the executive director of Pollywog Place in Woodstock where LeDane worked.
Pence is facing charges of cruelty/injury to a child and failure to report child abuse in the incident. Her four-day trial is scheduled for 9 a.m. April 26 in Shenandoah County Circuit Court after the case was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Delays also occurred in the exchange of evidence from the Shenandoah County Commonwealth's Attorney's office.
Both LeDane and Pence's charges stem from a Virginia State Police investigation into allegations that a teacher had verbally and physically abused a child.
According to court documents, an employee at the facility reported in October 2019 the alleged physical abuse by LeDane. Three weeks before the start of the investigation, which was in November 2019, a second employee stated she had addressed with Pence the alleged abuse by LeDane and was told it would be taken care of, the documents state.
Other employees at the facility stated they were not questioned about LeDane’s alleged actions by Pence or the facilitiy's management, the documents state. Four employees told police that they witnessed the assault on different children, according to a search warrant in the case.
Pence told state police investigators that she had been notified by employees at the facility of issues with LeDane’s interaction with children, the documents state. Pence indicated that she had spoken to LeDane but never suspended or removed her access to the facility's children, the documents state.
Shenandoah County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Chris Collins, who is prosecuting the case, said by email Thursday that had the case gone to trial his office's evidence would have shown that LeDane assaulted the children listed in the indictments while employed at a day care within Shenandoah County.
Attorney Ryan Nuzzo, who represented LeDane, said by email Thursday his client has sincere regret for her behavior and because of the case he has a new admiration of day care workers for the difficult work they do.
"It was a frustrating situation that she was thrown into," Nuzzo said. "There was a reason that these rooms were supposed to have two staff members, and she was left alone to manage it all herself at times. She has learned greatly from this experience and she is ready to move forward with her next life steps."