Lawsuit: Chappell Schools fails to report abuse allegations for more than a month

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — A St. Johns County day care, Chappell Schools, is back at the center of controversy after a lawsuit claimed the school’s administration failed to protect children from alleged sexual abuse.

This comes after Action News Jax learned about a second employee who faced claims of abuse for inappropriately touching a girl.

Read: Second former Chappell School worker named in lawsuit, accused of inappropriately touching girl


According to a civil complaint filed in St. Johns County, the Longleaf campus director and CEO failed to report allegations of sexual abuse for nearly a month and a half.

The lawsuit said both employees are ‘mandatory reporters’. Under Florida statutes, that means, “any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is abused, neglected or abandoned by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver or other person responsible for the child’s welfare shall immediately report such knowledge”

Failing to report abuse to the central abuse hotline could be a third-degree felony under state law.

According to the complaint, the director of the Longleaf campus, Heather Benacia, hired Neal Beaver in November 2021. It alleges he committed lewd acts while the plaintiff’s child was in the room. The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation, and Beaver left his job in December.

Beaver does not currently face any criminal charges. The State Attorney’s Office could not immediately comment but said it would have more explanation on possible charges later this week.

According to the suit, Benacia hired Anthony Guadalupe in January. Then on June 9, the plaintiff claims she was watching live surveillance video in the classroom when she said she saw Guadalupe touch two children in a lewd manner. The mother sent a screenshot and had a phone call with Benacia.

The complaint also named the company’s CEO, Melanie Williams.

“Williams and Benacia failed to take any reasonable action to protect minor children entrusted to their care,” the suit states.

Nearly a month and a half later, on July 18, Chappell Schools told law enforcement, and Guadalupe faced charges.

Read: Day care employee accused of inappropriately touching girl at school, St. Johns deputies say

The Florida Department of Children and Families also visited the campus for an inspection during that month-and-a-half span. The inspection report for the facility was clean. We reached out to DCF to see if it is still actively investigating. Our request has not yet been returned.

In a statement to Action News Jax, the attorney representing the plaintiffs said, “The investigation of the unlawful acts that occurred at Chappell Schools is vast and ongoing. As a former sex crimes prosecutor, I know how sensitive and complex these cases are. We are grateful for the work that the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office has done and will continue to do in the related criminal matters. However, at this time, our clients feel it necessary to institute further legal proceedings to ensure that all responsible parties are held accountable.”

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The statement goes on to say, “It is imperative that childcare providers adequately protect children who have been entrusted to their care. Our clients relied on Chappell Schools to care for and protect their child, and they failed to do so. Our firm is dedicated to doing everything we can to achieve justice for our clients, and to prevent other families from having to endure this painful experience.”

Action News Jax emailed, called and visited Chappell Schools’ corporate offices to get comment from Williams. Williams’ office did not get back to us. We also visited Benacia’s home address, but no one was around.

The defense filed a motion to dismiss: “These allegations do not provide sufficient factual support as to who placed Chappell on notice, how this specific report or photos constituted notice, or when Chappell allegedly had knowledge of those actions to support their claims thereafter.”

The defense’s motion said Benacia is no longer an employee at the Longleaf campus.

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