By Darren Cunningham, Matt Dale, Kiara Hay
WAYNE COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — A former teacher from Plymouth has been charged with sexually assaulting four girls while administering vision tests between 2018 and 2020.
43-year-old James Baird is facing two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was arraigned Wednesday morning, but later bonded out and is now on GPS tether.
Prosecutors say in 2018, Baird, who was working as a vision specialist, sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl multiple times at a school in Garden City while he was administering the tests.
Two months later, he also allegedly blindfolded and sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl at a Westland elementary school.
Fast forward to 2019, and Baird is once again accused of blindfolding and sexually assaulting an 11-year-old at another elementary school in Garden City.
The same accusations of blindfolding and sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl came to light in 2020 at a middle school in Westland.
Attorney Ven Johnson told WXYZ, “We strongly suspected there were others involved and obviously sadly, that’s come to fruition.”
Johnson filed a civil suit in federal court in 2021 against Baird, Livonia Public Schools and Garden City schools. He said the crimes at these metro Detroit schools were preventable.
“He got that opportunity because Livonia Public Schools did not do their job. They were supposed to send a form,” Johnson explained.
In the lawsuit, it claims that in 2019, after an investigation involving Garden City Police, the district banned Baird from working at Garden City Schools, but the lawsuit claims the district did not inform other districts of their investigation which allowed him to work at surrounding districts.
WXYZ reached out to Livonia schools for comment and was sent the following letter, which went home to parents. It includes the following:
“First, no allegations involving students within our school district have been reported. Mr. Baird was assigned to provide specialized vision services for students with certified vision impairments in various western Wayne County schools, including Livonia. Again, there are no allegations that stem from any school within our school district.
Third, the allegations relating to Mr. Baird did not, in any way, involve the vision screening services that are provided by the Wayne County Health Department at schools within Wayne County. Mr. Baird’s job was completely separate from the vision screening program offered in our schools by the health department.
And, finally, we are frustrated by the inaccurate statements made in some of the local media reporting on this case. To be clear, Livonia Public Schools followed all of its standard hiring practices, including those required by law, when Mr. Baird was hired in 2013. This included, among other things, a criminal background check, reference check, and an unprofessional conduct check with his former employer. None of these inquiries indicated any cause for concern with regard to Mr. Baird or reported any prior misconduct. We take our responsibility to hire staff very seriously and follow all processes as required by law and HR hiring practices.
Any and all allegations of this nature are, of course, of the highest concern, and we take them with the utmost seriousness. We have, and will continue, to work in full cooperation with law enforcement in this situation. If you have any questions or concerns and would like to speak to us, please reach out to Stacy Jenkins, Administrator of Communications so we can address them.”
Also, Garden City Schools sent this to WXYZ:
This message is sent in response to a recent news story about a lawsuit alleging the misconduct of a contracted vision specialist working with students at Douglas Elementary in 2019. You may see other news stories from local television and/or social media about the lawsuit. Please know that the district is not at liberty to respond to the details alleged in the suit, due to the protections afforded minor children; however, please be assured that the Garden City School District has worked in good faith to investigate the complaint and will continue to do so in support the ongoing police investigation regarding the allegations.
The safety of students is our top priority and Garden City Schools will continue to work in good faith to support the safety of students. Please feel free to bring questions about the matter to Dr. Szczotka, Director of Student Services at 734-762-6385.
This story was originally published Feb. 1 by WXYZ in Detroit, an E.W. Scripps Company.