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MIFFLIN HIGH SCHOOL Principals' actions after sexual assault lead to wider probe



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The school district has suspended three administrators and said it will fire another.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- The girl was led by the arm behind a stage curtain in the auditorium. There, witnesses said, her lip was bloodied and she was sexually assaulted by a group of boys, an attack videotaped by one student and watched by more than a dozen others who came running as word spread.

Within minutes, the developmentally disabled girl reported the assault to a special-education teacher, who said the girl "looked dazed and confused and was crying."

One administrator said principals didn't immediately notify police for fear of media attention, in violation of state law, and when the girl's father arrived, he was asked not to call 911. He ignored the request and called police.

Now administrators at Mifflin High School face the possibility of being charged along with students in the March 9 assault at the school, which has a history of violence.

"Even if you are following the common-sense measure, absolutely, none of this should have happened," Gene Harris, district superintendent, said Friday.

Consequences

The district said it will fire Principal Regina Crenshaw and has suspended three assistant principals. Police have not said who will face charges, but a city attorney said school officials could be prosecuted along with the assailants.

Witness statements to school investigators paint a picture of a slipshod response to the assault, which came on the heels of other problems. Earlier in the day, administrators had to deal with an assault on a Somali student and a report that a student had a concealed weapon.

Just after noon, the girl said four boys grabbed her by the arm. Students said one assailant punched the girl in the face and she dropped to her knees. One of the boys told her, "If you scream, I'll have all my boys punch you."

She was forced to perform oral sex on at least two boys, according to statements from school investigators.

A student who had a camera for a school project videotaped the assault, illuminated by light from a cell phone. Another witness said at least 15 people were in a room that looked into the auditorium because they had heard what was happening.

When some students eventually went to look for an adult, the boys involved in the assault fled.

Police plans

Police have not said how many boys may be charged but plan to give their evidence to prosecutors early this week. Potential charges could include delinquency counts of rape and pandering obscenity, said spokeswoman Sherry Mercurio.

The boys, who have not been publicly identified, are not expected to return to class this school year, district spokesman Andrew Marcelain said.

Whether school administrators will be charged is unclear. State law requires officials to immediately report cases of abuse to law enforcement or face up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine, said City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr.

However, he said officials would be charged only if someone filed a complaint. So far, no complaint has been filed. An attorney for the girl's father would not say if he planned to file one.

The school also is investigating the possibility of earlier assaults against the girl. Lisa Upshaw-Haider, the special-education teacher, said boys previously had oral sex with the girl on a bus and tried to pull down her pants at school.

After the assault was reported, the school was locked down while administrators frantically tried to find the videotape and identify suspects. The school's police officer was away for training that day.

"I could only imagine what we might be facing if that tape made it out of the building to later show up on the Internet or who knows where," Assistant Principal Vincent Clarno told investigators.

Clarno said he summoned the principal, who was meeting with two assistant principals and district officials about schedules and curriculum. Crenshaw remained in the meeting, Clarno said.

Crenshaw declined to comment. A message was left at a phone listing for Clarno.

Review of the tape

Assistant Principal Rick Watson told investigators he reviewed the tape with other school officials and concluded there had been no coercion.

When the girl's father arrived, Watson said he advised him to call the nonemergency police line, not 911, because "our fear was that a news channel might tape his daughter and cause her further mental trauma."

School district policy warns that calling police might draw media attention. It also says that although administrators must sometimes make judgment calls when deciding whether to notify authorities, "the committing of assaults do not normally warrant 'judgment calls.' "

The girl's father referred questions to his lawyer, Gary Shroyer, who declined to comment. Phone numbers could not be found for Watson or Upshaw-Haider.

Last week, school administrators discouraged a reporter from trying to interview students at the school.

Shirley Justice, 64, whose granddaughter attends the school, said administrators who handled the situation should be fired.

"You don't know if your kids are safe," she said.




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