AUBURN — Sherwood Heights Elementary School and Auburn School Department administrators properly followed harassment policies after two parents complained that their first-graders were sexually assaulted by another first-grader last month at the school, according to the School Committee.
The School Committee met in a closed-door executive session to listen to the parents, Sherwood Heights teachers and administrators Wednesday night. What was said is confidential, but the board listened and reviewed the allegations and actions followed by school administrators.
The committee came out of executive session and voted 5-2 that policies were followed.
Two members, Lane Feldman and City Councilor Ron Potvin, the mayor's representative on the committee, voted that policies were not properly followed.
Committee Chairman David Das said Friday he voted that policies were followed because "I certainly felt that the administration handled it very, very well." From the classroom teachers to the principals to the superintendent, "I commend them on the way they handled it," Das said. "The policies are in place to ensure the safety of all students. That is the mission of all faculty members."
Potvin said he voted against approval, in part, because he felt the student charged with assaulting the others could have been removed from school but was not.
"The policy allows them to suspend students for small periods of time," Potvin said. "They chose not to take that direction." Separating the students is necessary, he said. "You need that period of assessment to figure out what level infraction it was. Leaving the child within the situation is asking for something else to happen."
He also complained that the policy is too broad and allows for excessive discretion. "Given the seriousness of the allegation, the attorney general and Maine Department of Health and Human Services should be contacted," he said. "When there's an allegation of a felony, there are absolutes that should happen."
The policy should be changed, he said. "I will be making that motion so future situations don't erupt in the same way," he said.
Potvin said he was bothered by a lack of process by school officials after parents complained, including who the school police officer reports to, and parent notification.
He was brought up in the Boston school system, Potvin said. "We had three sexual predators. They were students. They were kept aside and monitored, only to re-offend. Not to say this is the case, but the idea is we have to act in a way that the possibility exists."
The committee also voted, unanimously, to hear an update report on the Sherwood Heights incident as soon as possible.
On Oct. 7 a mother told the School Committee that her 6-year-old son was sexually assaulted on Sept. 17 by a fellow classmate in the boys' bathroom. That same boy assaulted another first-grader, she said, complaining that the school moved the boy to another class without telling parents of the risks to children.
She asked the committee to look at how the incident was handled, saying she spoke out because she was concerned about the safety of Sherwood Heights students.
A second parent, a Lewiston police officer, complained that since his son was allegedly assaulted, the school department had "swept this under the table."
After Wednesday night's meeting, both parents said they were unhappy with what they saw as a lack of action from the School Committee.