Helena Flats Superintendent Engaged in ‘Corporal Punishment,’ Internal Investigation Found

An October investigation by the Kaleva Law Firm found that Superintendent Andy Maheras violated the district’s ban on corporal punishment during an altercation with a 12-year-old student. The investigation occurred a month before the Flathead County Attorney’s Office filed charges against Maheras related to the incident.

By Denali Sagner
Helena Flats School in Evergreen on Dec. 19, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The superintendent of a small school district in Flathead County engaged in ‘corporal punishment’ during an altercation with a student, an internal investigation conducted by the district’s legal counsel found.

According to a six-page report obtained by the Beacon through a public records request, Helena Flats School District Superintendent Andy Maheras engaged in “corporal punishment” when disciplining a 12-year-old student last August, grabbing the student by the face and arms in a manner that caused the student pain.

The investigation found by “a preponderance of evidence” that the superintendent violated school district policy, as “hurting a student by grabbing him by the face is not proper restraint but, instead, satisfies the definition of corporal punishment.”

The school board reviewed the investigation on Nov. 2, at which point it disciplined Maheras via “a letter of reprimand and directives,” and allowed him to continue his in-person work. Kaleva Law Office, a Missoula-based education law firm, conducted the independent investigation.

Three weeks after the district’s investigation, the Flathead County Attorney’s Office on Nov. 20 charged Maheras with two counts of misdemeanor assault related to the Aug. 31 incident. The school district notified parents of the charges on Dec. 12, at which point it was announced that Maheras would be working remotely until further notice.

According to the internal investigation report, Maheras on Aug. 31 approached two students who he alleged were kissing in the hallway. The Beacon has omitted the name of the 12-year-old male student who Maheras allegedly assaulted and has referred to the student as “Student A.”

Per an interview with Student A, Student A had stopped to give a female student a hug when he heard Maheras yell at them that “kissing and hugging was not allowed.” Student A told the investigator that Maheras grabbed both students by the arms, at which point Student A attempted to walk away from him. Maheras then allegedly grabbed Student A by both of his arms, pushed him against the lockers lining the hallway and squeezed his face. The student said this “hurt his jaw and left red marks on his cheeks,” as well as caused him “pain in his wrists, arms, and jaw from the interaction.”

Maheras in an email to Student A’s parent said that he “addressed [Student A] and a female student” and that in order to discipline Student A, he was required “to catch his arm to bring him around to address the situation.” Maheras also said Student A was “muttering disrespectfully” under his breath.

In an interview with the investigator, Maheras said he did not remember grabbing the student by the wrists or face and jaw. He said he has “no memory of touching [Student A’s] face in any manner” and that Student A “did not exhibit any pain during the interaction.”

Videotape footage examined during the investigation showed Maheras grabbing Student A by the bicep of his left arm and turning the student towards him; however, both Maheras and Student A moved out of the frame before the alleged assault.

While the on-camera actions did not meet the definition of corporal punishment, the investigator found Maheras’s off-camera actions fell under corporal punishment after interviewing numerous students who witnessed the interaction as well as former Principal Allison Hawes, who some students confided in following the alleged assault.

Hawes resigned from the Helena Flats School District last week. 

Students told the investigator that Maheras “grabbed [Student A’s] face and jaw and wouldn’t let go” and “backed [Student A] up to the locker.” According to notes kept by Hawes, students told her that Maheras “assaulted [Student A] today” and that Maheras “was so close in his face, squeezing it and yelling at him.”

The investigation stated that based on the allegations and “the fact that the majority of student witnesses saw Maheras grab [Student A],” as well as the reports made to Hawes and school counselors, “the investigator finds that more likely than not, Maheras grabbed [Student A] by the face during the hallway encounter and that this caused him pain.”

“This was not an instance where Maheras was using proper restraint to try to relocate [Student A] to maintain order in the School (which is allowed). Instead, Maheras knowingly grabbed the student by the face because he would not look at him, and this hurt the student,” the report stated.

In the Oct. 24 report, the investigator found Maheras in violation of the school district’s corporal punishment policy. According to attorney Elizabeth Kaleva, the school board met to review the report on Nov. 2, at which point the board “authorized discipline for Superintendent Maheras in the form of a letter of reprimand and directives.”

The board’s internal discipline process occurred three weeks before the Flathead County Attorney’s Office filed charges against Maheras. Court documents allege that the altercation between Maheras and Student A constituted misdemeanor assault.

The school district on Dec. 12 notified parents of the charges filed against Maheras and said, “Superintendent Maheras will be on leave pending the outcome of the criminal charges. The District takes the safety of its students seriously and will be evaluating the information as it moves forward.”

Kaleva told the Beacon, however, that Maheras is not on leave, and that he is performing his administrative duties from home. Maheras is working remotely; however, he has been in attendance at in-person school board meetings.

Per an email from Kaleva, the board is not considering additional discipline against Maheras, but may re-evaluate the decision pending the outcome of the legal proceedings. The board on Jan. 16 evaluated Maheras during a closed-door session.

An omnibus hearing for Maheras was initially set for Feb. 6 in Flathead County Justice Court but was rescheduled for April 16.

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