Panel: No policy change needed at school attended by student charged with sexual assault

By Tim Cox, BDN Staff
Posted April 02, 2014, at 4:58 p.m.

HARRINGTON, Maine — A subcommittee that reviewed school district policies of School Administrative District 37 after a controversy over a student who was charged in a sexual assault will recommend no changes, the chairman of the panel said Wednesday.

“At this time … I guess we deemed that the policies we have are sufficient,” said Vance Pineo, who planned to give a report to the full SAD 37 school board Wednesday evening.

“They’re adequate and sufficient,” added Pineo. “We don’t see the need to change any at this time.”

Parents upset that a child charged with a sex offense has been allowed to remain a student at Harrington Elementary School petitioned the school board in January, requesting a review of school district policies. The petition forms were signed by 103 residents of communities throughout the school district, said Tiffany Strout of Harrington, who presented them to the school board.

Only Strout and one other parent attended the second and final review meeting of the subcommittee last week, a stark contrast to the first meeting in mid-February.

She was satisfied with the outcome, Strout said Wednesday, although she could not explain why the second meeting drew such little parental involvement.

School officials essentially noted their hands were tied because the alleged sexual assault took place off school property and because they must abide by policies and procedures that are developed at the state level, said Strout. There was some discussion about what could be done at the state level, she added.

School officials have agreed to make an incident report available to parents at the elementary school level, she said, an idea that arose in the first subcommittee meeting. In addition, parents will be better informed how their reports of incidents or complaints are handled by school officials so those reports do not end up in a “black hole” or sitting on someone’s desk, she said.

The measures “will give parents more confidence that matters are being dealt with properly,” said Strout. “I know where to follow up and who to go to,” she added.

The subcommittee met in February but made little progress on the review and took no action. About a dozen parents and a few students attended the first meeting at Narraguagus High School, with some participating in the discussion.

Some school officials and some parents thought the first meeting was a good start, but not everyone was pleased. The meeting focused very little on a review of the school district’s bullying and other policies. Instead, it generated a wide-ranging discussion that touched on legal matters, student discipline, communication between school personnel and parents, and the impact of social media and news media.

A Washington County District Court judge last month ordered the Harrington boy accused of a sex offense to attend school or an alternative education program pending his trial.

The ruling by Judge David Mitchell means that the 11-year-old may return to a classroom at Harrington Elementary School, where two witnesses to the alleged crime also are students. Mitchell instructed the boy to have no more than “incidental contact” with the other boys.

He would “leave it to education authorities” to ensure the witnesses are comfortable in the presence of the accused boy, said Mitchell.

The defendant had been tutored in recent weeks at the school district administration office, attorneys in the case indicated at the court hearing in March.

Parents, upset the boy had been allowed to remain in school, staged a protest in January and met with Superintendent Ronald Ramsay behind closed doors for more than two hours. In addition, Lisa Norton, a member of the SAD 37 board, resigned over the controversy.

The 11-year-old was summoned in late December on a felony charge of gross sexual assault, according to Stephen McCausland, Maine State Police spokesman. At the time the summons was issued, the boy and his alleged victim were both students at Harrington Elementary School, but the alleged assault did not happen on school grounds, McCausland said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2014/04/02/news/down-east/panel-no-policy-change-needed-at-school-attended-by-student-charged-with-sexual-assault/ printed on September 21, 2014