This incident took place in Florida, a state where certain individuals are designated mandatory reporters based on their profession. So, doctors, social workers and teachers, among others, are all required to report certain things to appropriate authorities, including suspicion of child abuse and sexual battery. This week, five employees at a high school in Palm Beach were arrested for failing to meet that mandate. It started when a teenager handed a note to her choir teacher about a fellow student who was a friend of hers.
In the letter, the student wrote: “I am reporting about someone and something that really needs to have a radar.” The student went on to say the victim “has had many problems with guys and has been sexually assaulted by two of them. I have witnessed both of them not taking no for an answer.” The affidavit mentions one of the alleged assailants is related to a school staff member.
The letter also mentioned the victim suffering from anxiety and panic attacks which the student said was “leading to self-harm.”
The alleged incident described in the letter took place over a weekend and not on school grounds. Nevertheless, the choir teacher was required to report it. Instead, he passed the letter to someone in the school’s office. He later claimed he couldn’t remember who he gave it to.
Houchins told a sheriff’s deputy he gave the document to someone in the guidance counselor’s office, the affidavit stated. But he couldn’t remember whom and didn’t know what happened with it, the affidavit added.
Investigators determined the letter made its way to [counselor Priscilla] Carter, who called the alleged assault victim to her office. Carter did not ask the teenager about the assault claims, according to the affidavit. She asked about the suicidal thoughts, deciding the teen wasn’t a risk to herself and didn’t need to be put in a psychiatric hold, the affidavit stated.
All of this happened in the spring of 2021. No one who read the letter notified authorities as was required by law. The whole summer went by until it became an issue again.
Months later, on Aug. 16, 2021, the assault allegations came back to the forefront when they were reported to the assistant principal, Snider, according to the affidavit. The victim was called to the school’s main office a day later and asked to give a statement to Assistant Principal Cayado de Garcia and Principal Edgecomb, the affidavit stated. She did, explaining her assault and identifying a witness. Then she met again with Carter.
Three days later on Aug. 19, 2021, the top staff held a meeting about the student.
During the meeting, which involved Assistant Principal Garcia, Garcia said they did not report the assault because they felt the victim would tell her parents and that the parents should be the ones to report it.
The report says one staff member claimed in that same meeting that he conducted his own investigation into the alleged assault and claimed he did not believe the assault occurred. Despite this, the boy allegedly involved in the assault would face disciplinary action such as the removal from school activities. When investigators asked why the boy was disciplined if the staff did not believe the assault took place, the staff member said he was “aware of how it looks.”
During a school trip to Washington DC the girl attempted suicide. A Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy indicated that if the incident had been reported and properly investigated in the spring, that might not have happened.
Police did find evidence to back up the allegations about the assault but the parents of the girl decided not to press charges for assault. The case was closed. However, they did decide to press charges against the school for failing to report the allegations as required. Now all five of the adults are facing a maximum of five years in jail. They won’t get that of course but hopefully they will get probation which will likely prevent any of them from working in the public school system again.
None of these people are designated as investigators or judges for allegations of sexual assault. Their only job in a situation like this is to hand the information off to the people who are. Frankly, the same should be true for any kind of serious discipline issue involving violence or sexual assault. Instead of worrying about the school to prison pipeline, these administrators and teachers should worry about the victim and let the chips fall.