On April 25, Ohio County, West Virginia sheriff’s deputies arrested Elizabeth Harbert, 43. The former high school science teacher has been charged with sexually abusing a student starting in 2005. Harbert and the student, identified as Christopher Birch, 28, have four children and lived together for 14 years. Harbert is now saying that it was Birch who abused her and that she is the true victim. Harbert was released on $10,000 bail. She resigned from her teaching job at Wheeling Park High School in August 2018.
Here’s what you need to know about Elizabeth Harbert and her relationship with student Christopher Birch.
1. They Met When When Birch was in Middle School
In court documents, Birch said his relationship with Harbert began in 2005 when he was a student at Bridge Street Middle School, where Harbert was his science teacher. Both she and her husband also served as track coaches at the school. Birch claims that while he was in middle school, Harbert took an active interest in his life and began purchasing shoes, clothing and other items for him.
Birch did not know his father and his mother struggled with addiction, a situation that forced him to live with his grandmother. She eventually granted Harbert and her husband permission to take Christopher Birch into their home and to serve as his guardians. In the summer of 2005 before starting his freshman year in high school, Birch claims he and Harbert first had sex. He was 14 and she was 28. Their intimate relationship continued whenever Harbert’s husband, who was a coal miner, worked the night shift. Harbert and her husband divorced in 2006.
Harbert arranged to be transferred from Bridge Street Middle School to Wheeling Park High School when Birch entered his freshman year. He recounted in legal documents how Harbert drove him to and from school each day and attended all of his extra-curricular activities.
During Birch’s junior year of high school in 2007, the 16-year-old discovered Harbert was pregnant with the couple’s first child. He said that Harbert told him he “had to be with her because that is what was right and that is how it should be.” Over the course of their relationship, Birch and Harbert had three more children together.
2. Harbert Thought it was Very “Bizarre and Odd” That the Police Wanted to Question Her
On April 25, Harbert was arraigned by Ohio County Magistrate Patricia Murphy on charges of sexual abuse by a parent or guardian, being in a position of trust and allowing sexual abuse to be inflicted upon a child.
The arrest was based on evidence gathered during an investigation that started on January 29, 2019, when the West Virginia State Police were contacted by Dr. Kimberly Miller, the Ohio County Board of Education Superintendent, to investigate allegations of sexual abuse made by Birch. The investigation uncovered information concerning Harbert and Birch’s sexual relationship. The report details how Harbert insisted that Birch’s name not go on their first child’s birth certificate since she would “get into trouble.” DNA testing has confirmed with 99.99% probability that Birch is the father.
On February 11, authorities contacted Harbert and asked her to come to the police barracks for questioning. “I feel it is just very bizarre and odd that you would want to talk to me,” she repeatedly told the officer. Harbert eventually refused law enforcement’s request to meet for questioning.
3. The Civil Lawsuit Claims She Told Birch to Think of her as “70% Mom and 30% Girlfriend”
In addition to the criminal charges Harbert has been named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit initiated by her former student. Birch’s primary reason for filing the suit is to end his relationship with Harbert while maintaining contact with his four children.
Court papers filed with the Circuit Court of Ohio County by Birch’s attorneys describe how Birch originally saw Harbert as his
“mom” but then documents how Birch felt “weird” after he and Harbert’s first sexual encounter because he was “losing her as a mom.” The document states that she told him to think of her as “70% mom and 30% girlfriend; no big deal.” As their relationship continued the percentages changed until Harbert was “70% girlfriend, 30% mom.”
As Birch matured, he attempted to date girls his age and attend his Junior Prom, but “he was harassed and harangued.” Upon graduation from high school, he stated that she told him he would have to work in the coal mines instead of attending college to “provide for his family.” According to the lawsuit, Birch worked in the coal mines from the ages of 18-23.
4. The Civil Lawsuit States That School Officials Were Aware of the Relationship but Failed to Investigate
Filed on April 4, the civil suit named the Ohio Board of Education, former Wheeling Park High School Principal Christine Carder and Elizabeth Harbert as defendants. Legal documents state that “the abuse was apparently widely suspected,” and alleges that the school principal, teachers, parents, Birch’s relatives, and even his peers doubted that Birch and Harbert had a platonic relationship. “Reports were made, the teacher was told of such reports and the school took no meaningful action,” court documents reveal, adding that those who knew Birch and Harbert wondered about the relationship between the newly divorced but pregnant Harbert who was driving Birch to and from school every day.
The papers also state that a social worker was called to investigate Harbert and Birch’s relationship after a neighbor filed a report. Birch stated that Harbert coached him prior to his interview with the social worker, which lasted approximately 10 minutes.
5. Harbert Claims Birch Abused Her and That his “Allegations Were Nothing More Than a MoneyGrab”
In a stunning development reported by The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register, Harbert is now alleging that it was Birch who abused her. A statement released by Harbert’s attorney Mark Kepple read that his client “challenges any and all allegations which suggest she consented to a relationship” with Birch. “We are confident that the civil justice system will expose the decade-plus history of the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of Birch and vindicate her fully,” it continued.
Kepple’s statement also said that “Mr. Birch’s actions and his lawsuit represent a disgusting new low in the history of American jurisprudence. This lawsuit is nothing more than a money grab and an underhanded attempt to separate a mother from her children.”