HARRINGTON, Maine — Parents of Harrington Elementary School students, upset that a student charged with a sex offense remains in school, left frustrated after a 2½-hour closed-door meeting with the superintendent of schools on Monday.
Sarah Strout of Harrington says she organized a protest at the elementary school the same day, encouraging parents to let their children skip school. More than a third of the kindergarten through eighth grade students enrolled at Harrington Elementary School were absent on Monday, according to the superintendent’s office. The Harrington Elementary School enrollment is 159, and 58 students were absent.
Lisa Norton, a member of the SAD 37 board, resigned Monday over the controversy. In addition, a petition drive is under way to request that the school board review applicable policies.
An 11-year-old Harrington boy was summoned in late December on a felony charge of gross sexual assault, Stephen McCausland, Maine State Police spokesman, confirmed Monday. The boy and his alleged victim are both students at Harrington Elementary School, but the alleged assault did not happen on school grounds, McCausland said.
The alleged assailant is scheduled to appear in court in February, McCausland indicated.
A Harrington woman who says her son was the victim of the sexual assault said Monday that she immediately called 911 and subsequently the Maine State Police after learning in November about the alleged assault. Her son was 8 when he was forced to perform a sex act on the alleged assailant at that boy’s home in September, she said.
The mother said she since has taken her son and her other child out of Harrington Elementary School and enrolled them in a private school.
“We want the sexual predator out of our schools,” Strout said Monday about her meeting with Superintendent Ronald Ramsay. However, school officials have refused, she said, because the alleged incident did not occur on school property.
The school district has an anti-bullying policy that would apply, according to Strout. The policy can apply to bullying behavior that occurs elsewhere if it “infringes on the rights of the student at school” and meets the definition of “bullying,” according to a copy. The policy defines bullying as including behavior that harms a student, places a student in reasonable fear of harm, creates an intimidating or hostile educational environment, or interferes with a student’s academic performance.
Ramsay, speaking with reporters after the meeting with several dozen parents at the school district office, was adamant that the bullying policy did not apply in this instance.
“There has to be evidence that stuff has happened in school that’s carried over,” Ramsay told reporters. “You can’t just reach my arms … out into individual homes and apply discipline to things that happened outside of school that have nothing to do with school.”
Ramsay compared the incident to two students having a fight in a movie theater.
“It’s not my job to police that,” he said.
The bullying policy “absolutely applies,” Strout told reporters after the meeting.
“I’ve gotten pretty much nowhere in there,” added Strout. “He’s [Ramsay] not taken a stand for what is right, which is what I’m trying to do here.”
Ramsay described the meeting as “a good conversation, very civil,” with give and take. At times parents could be heard angrily raising their voices during the gathering, which also included a few moments of laughter.
Ramsay “talked to us a lot about policies, policies, policies, and what can and cannot be enforced due to policies,” said Strout.
When an unidentified woman who left the meeting early was asked how it was proceeding, she replied, “Useless.”
“I’m very concerned about it” when about 50 parents show up concerned about their children’s safety in school, Ramsay told reporters. “I’m very willing to work with them to come to some resolution.”
However, Ramsay said he has to safeguard the rights of all students and abide by applicable laws and policies that pertain to the case.
Norton said she resigned her school board seat because she has a son who is in the same class as the accused. She didn’t feel as though she could represent both her child and the board, she indicated.
“I chose to stand on behalf of my child,” said Norton, who served four years on the panel.
She also disagreed with Ramsay over the application of the bullying policy.
“I do not feel we are doing a good enough job to protect our children,” Norton said. “All our children, including the accused perpetrator in this case.”
The petition requests that the school board review its policies and their enforcement. Strout and others were in the process of gathering signatures to take the petition to the board at its next regular meeting on Wednesday night in Milbridge.
To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.