Education

Durham schools, police remain mum about sexual abuse case; cite open investigation

Police and school officials declined to comment on a mother’s allegations this week that three older students bullied and sexually abused her 5-year-old son in the back of a school bus.

No action had been taken against the driver as of Wednesday morning. Durham Public Schools spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said the driver was not disciplined because he was not involved in the allegation.

Police and school officials would not disclose the driver’s name, how long he had been an employee or how many students were on the bus, citing the investigation.

“This case has been handed over to the Police Department,” Pearson said. “Since it’s open, we are unable to comment.”

Pearson did say most buses have one camera positioned to view students from the front of the bus. Buses with two cameras “add the capability to view the stairwell and door.”

She also said that elementary school students in kindergarten through fifth-grade ride the same bus and that there is no policy regarding assigned seats.

“Drivers determine what works best for their individual bus and student population,” she said.

The mother of a 5-year-old at W.G. Pearson Elementary School, says on Sept. 11, three older students forced her son to drop his pants and receive and perform oral sex on them.

The mother asked that her name not be used to protect the privacy of her son; it is the policy of The News & Observer not to identify people who are reported to be the victims of a sexual assault.

“They hit him,” the mother said in her native Spanish. She alleges that while one student had a foot on her son’s stomach, another had his foot on his neck telling her son that he had to do it.

She said her son tried to get away but couldn’t.

The mother said she drove to the school to report what happened and was told it would be taken care of and that the incident would be reported to police. But when she went to the police station the next day, she says she learned that no police report involving her son had been filed.

So she filed one herself, she said.

“My son is the victim here, and this is going to stick with him forever,” the mother said. “That is more what is worrying for me.”

According to school board policy 4410, “any teacher or other school employee who receives from a student a report (oral or written) of alleged sexual harassment shall immediately report the same to the school principal, and the principal shall promptly inform the superintendent of the allegations. Failure by the employee to do so may subject the employee to disciplinary action.”

To draw attention to the case, the mother reported the incident to Qué Pasa, the Spanish newspaper, which published a story about it Wednesday. She said only then did the school act.

When asked about when the school reported the alleged incident to police, Pearson said, “My understanding is an investigation was launched right away.”

“Any allegations of this sort are taken very seriously, and our full attention is given to investigating this thoroughly,” she said Wednesday. “Any time one of our students reports misconduct on a school bus or anywhere else, we act quickly, as our students’ health and safety are our top priority.”

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said Wednesday that the department’s Special Victims Unit will lead its investigation.

He said that the department is very sensitive to crimes involving children.

According to Lopez, the department formed the 10-person Special Victims Unit in 2012 to investigate sex crimes and sexual assault cases.

“So, I have every confidence the investigation will be handled with great care and sensitivity to find out what happened,” he said. “As warranted, appropriate law enforcement action will be taken, and support services provided to help ensure the welfare of all minors involved.”

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