ORANGE — Two former Orange County Public Schools child care employees — one a worker and one a supervisor — pleaded not guilty in court Thursday to abuse charges stemming from an alleged April 24 incident involving a 2-year-old.
The former child care worker, Jenean Renee Simms, 33, of Orange, was charged, by direct indictment, with felony child endangerment and felony child abuse and neglect. Her former supervisor, Brookes Michelle Sims, 37, of Unionville, was charged with felony child endangerment and failing to report the suspicion of child abuse, a misdemeanor.
The alleged incident occurred at the Dailey Drive facility of Orange County Head Start, which also offered child care for children ages 6 weeks to kindergarten. Located in the Orange County Public Schools Taylor Education Administration Complex, the child care facility recently closed due to financial issues.
On Thursday, a trial by jury in the abuse case for both women was scheduled for Jan. 29-31 in Orange County Circuit Court.
Court-appointed defense attorneys — Amy Harper for Simms and Michael Hallahan for Sims — did not object to the motion filed by Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana O’Connell for a joint trial.
“The trial of each defendant will require numerous witnesses who would otherwise have to appear at two separate trials,” O’Connell wrote in her July 3 motion requesting the joinder.
She told Judge Dale Durrer that the prosecution expected the trial could exceed two days, to which both defense attorneys disagreed.
“We think maybe a day, day-and-a-half,” Harper said.
To which O’Connell commented, “They may not have a big case, but we think ours will be lengthy.”
Outside the courtroom after Thursday’s hearing, Hallahan emphasized that his client, Sims, was not with the child when they allegedly were harmed.
According to reports, the 2-year-old allegedly hit their head on playground equipment while playing outside after Simms pulled the child away to break up an incident with another child. The 2-year-old was reportedly taken to the doctor the next day and diagnosed as having a concussion.
According to court records, Simms was released from her position May 9; around that time, Sims also stopped working at the center.
Both women remain free on $5,000 unsecured bonds and are required to report for pretrial supervision.