Palmetto principal cleared of allegation he failed to report child abuse

twhitt@bradenton.comMay 22, 2013 

PALMETTO -- An investigation into allegations a Palmetto High School's principal did not report child abuse in a case involving a special needs student who said another student raped her off school property, found the principal "had no knowledge of the assault."

A mother of a Palmetto High student accused Principal Willie Clark of failing to report the assault during a March meeting with Scott Martin, assistant superintendent of district support services and a parent advocate. The mother told Martin her daughter was sexually assaulted by another student nearly a year earlier.

The assault, alleged to involve two Palmetto High students, did not happen on school property or during school hours, according to a Palmetto police report.

The school district hired Carol Springer Investigations to examine the allegations.

The investigation found the mother informed three Palmetto High employees of the alleged assault almost six months after it was said to have happened. Those employees were cleared of any wrongdoing, but the district will now provide additional training for staff regarding child abuse and reporting suspected cases of abuse.

All district employees will be required to take a state-approved training on identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect. Details on implementation are being worked on by district staff, said Margi Nanney, district spokeswoman.

"The facts as found by the investigator do substantiate that additional training for school employees regarding child abuse reporting requirements is warranted," according to the investigator's report

The mother told the school board in December that she reported the assault to the principal months later. The investigation found the girl's mother never reported the assault to law enforcement authorities although she did report the allegations to high school parent liaison, Kevin Jackson. The school district reported the allegations to Palmetto police after the December meeting.

"Principal Clark has been completely cleared of the allegation of failure to report reasonably suspect child abuse,"

according to an interoffice memo from Martin.

The scope of the investigation went beyond Clark. The district wanted to determine whether any employee at Palmetto High "failed to report reasonably suspected child abuse."

"Based on the investigator's findings of fact, there is no competent evidence to support a charge of misconduct against employees," Martin wrote

The investigation found three employees, including the parent liaison, were told about the alleged assault about six months after the student said it happened.

"However, the alleged act described ... was a crime committed by a student against another student," according to the report. "That act, even if true, did not meet the applicable statutory definition of reportable child abuse."

The report also points out the mother had an obligation to report the crime rather than rely on school employees months later.

The mother said she took her daughter to a doctor in June after her daughter told her she had been assaulted. The doctor also had a responsibility to report the crime before the school district employees, Martin reported.

"No competent substantial evidence exists to support a conclusion that any employee violated law or policy in failing to report the alleged instance of student-on-student sexual assaults," Martin's report concludes.

Toni Whitt, education editor, can be reached at 745-7087. Follow her on twitter @toniTwhitt.

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