State attorney: Pastor who whipped 16 students with belt at Orlando private school won’t be charged

ORLANDO, Fla. — Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Andrew Bain announced Wednesday afternoon that an Orlando pastor who whipped 16 students with a belt in November at a private school will not be charged with child abuse.


Bain said that on Nov. 2, the Orlando Police Department referred a case to his office after several parents filed complaints accusing a senior leader at St. Mark AME Church of child abuse at the church’s Alpha Learning Academy.

Parents told police that the church’s administrative assistant asked the senior leader to intervene in a fourth-grade class because of “disruptive and disrespectful behavior.”

The complaints alleged that the leader used a leather belt to give three lashes on the hips, legs and backsides of 16 students.

The parents said in the complaints that they did not consent to corporal punishment and that they were not notified before it was administered.

Read: Parents say Orlando pastor whipped kids with belt at private school

They also said the school’s parent handbook they received did not mention corporal punishment as being an approved form of discipline.

Police said they discovered previous versions of the school’s parent handbook that did include a provision for corporal punishment as an alternative to home suspension.

But they said that the school’s 2023-2024 parent handbook lacked the corporal punishment provision.

Police said in their report that it is unclear which version of the handbook parents received.

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“The senior leader admitted to police that he administered the spankings, stating he had warned students about the potential for it if they continued misbehaving,” Bain’s office said. “He told officers the school’s principals and counselors had previously used corporal punishment in prior years. The official said he was unaware of the change to the handbook.”

Florida law grants teachers and school personnel “the authority to maintain discipline within the scope of parental expectations and practices and exempts them from potential simple battery charges,” prosecutors said.

“While the senior leader’s act of administering corporal punishment is not in question, the state cannot prove there was an intent to inflict physical injury or bodily harm to the children,” Bain’s office said. “It cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the senior leader intended to strike the students against their (or their parents’) will.”

Florida law states that child abuse “requires the intentional infliction of physical injury or an intentional act reasonably expected to cause injury to a child,” Bain’s office said.

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“It is not reasonable to expect three lashes over clothing would cause an injury,” Bain said. “After reviewing the case, our office does not believe it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and our ethical standards prohibit us from filing charges.”

The Alpha Learning Academy/Saint Mark AME Church sent Channel 9 a statement regarding the announcement:

“After working closely with the law enforcement investigation following the incident at The Alpha Learning Academy, we have now learned that no criminal charges are being filed. We are currently working with our district leadership to determine next steps regarding the pastor’s tenure, as well as how the school will operate moving forward. The pastor’s voluntary sabbatical will continue while we work through this internal process. Our commitment is to ensure the school continues to be a place where every scholar is “cared for, loved and supported in their desire to be the best they can be” and that the church remains a place of compassion, hope and reconciliation. As our internal investigation is now underway, we will refrain from any further comment. "

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Jason Kelly

Jason Kelly, WFTV.com

Jason Kelly joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2014. He serves as the station's Digital Executive Producer.

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