Imagine Schools Lakewood Ranch principal could face felony neglect charges

eearl@bradenton.comDecember 5, 2013 

MANATEE -- Principal Selenia Quinones of Imagine Schools Lakewood Ranch could face felony charges of failure to report suspected child abuse after reports surfaced that a 4-year-old at the school had performed oral sex on other 4-year-olds on school grounds.

Dave Bristow, spokesperson for the Manatee County Sheriff Office, said the juveniles involved are now all 5 years old.

"We cannot give any comment other than the case was sent to the State Attorney's Office," Bristow said.

The State Attorney's Office, which has been handling the investigation since Oct. 23, would not comment as an arrest has not been made and charges have not been filed.

Quinones has been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 4.

According to the sheriff department's investigation, a student at Imagine Schools Lakewood Ranch told his mother another student had performed oral sex on him, and allegedly on other students, during the last school year.

Stanley Schaeffer from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office was notified and called the Child Abuse Registry.

None of the students is facing lewd and lascivious battery charges, which normally would apply in such a case involving juveniles.

"No one is being charged because of their ages," Bristow said. "They are 5 years old."

According to an internal investigation done by Imagine Schools, all students were only 4 years old at the time of the alleged sexual acts.

Imagine Schools is a charter school, and while the Manatee County School District has oversight, Superintendent Rick Mills asked Bob Wilson, governing board chairman of Imagine Schools Lakewood Ranch, to handle the investigation. The report was released around 5:45 p.m. Wednesday.

In April, a student told voluntary pre-kindergarten teacher Roxie Borchert three boys had shown each other their private parts. When questioned individually, Borchert said the boys claimed nothing happened beyond showing their private parts.

In an interview with a mother of one of the children, she said her boy told him about the incident over the summer. He said he saw the sexual act in the back of the classroom and the 4-year-old committing it asked if he wanted to participate.

On July 19, the parent told Quinones the information her son had given her. According to the investigation report, Quinones said she would discuss the incident with voluntary pre-kindergarten teacher Kathy Lawson after the summer break.

Around Aug. 22, the mother asked if Lawson knew of any sexual activity occurring in the classroom. Lawson said no. The mother reportedly told Lawson she was concerned an older sibling of a student was sharing information about sexual acts with young children.

Lawson reportedly told the mother the incident in April had been investigated and the school was satisfied the investigation was concluded.

The parent of another child involved said her son had seen a forensic psychologist who confirmed something traumatic had happened to her son. He had started bed-wetting and exhibiting behavior inconsistent with his actions prior to the incident.

In the board's interview with Quinones, she reportedly said she would do nothing differently if she had it to do over again.

The report reads:

"Based upon her understanding of the particulars of this situation, she feels that the initial investigation and resulting reactions were accurate, prompt, and reflected the situation as it had happened."

Quinones maintains the term oral sex was never brought up in her conversation with the parent in July.

On Oct. 22, two investigators from the Department of Children and Families came to the school. Quinones, who was hired in August 2012, reportedly told the investigators she had never heard of the oral sex claim before the visit. She said she would have contacted investigators sooner if she had.

At the request of a Department of Children and Families investigator, the child who allegedly committed the sex acts underwent a forensic psychologist session and passed. His mother said she was not aware of any particular issues between the children.

Quinones is now the only one who faces possible charges. She has not yet been charged but the case is still under investigation by the State Attorney's Office.

The Imagine Schools Lakewood Ranch board investigation concludes:

"While it is very easy to get caught up in emotion and the visceral reaction that hearing oral sex had been conducted on the school grounds of the Imagine School by four year olds, there is not one piece of evidence, nor are there independent witnesses to substantiate the claim."

Wilson said he could not give any information beyond the investigation report.

"As a board, our primary objective is the safety and well being of the students at Imagine Lakewood Ranch," Wilson said in a press release. "In an effort to demonstrate that commitment and to be transparent with our parents and community the Board of Imagine Lakewood Ranch is proactively releasing a copy of the internal investigation."

Calls to Kathy Helean, director of Imagine Schools, were not returned.

An Imagine Schools Lakewood Ranch parent said he has never met Quinones or seen her around the school. Quihired August 2012.

"Our disappointment is through the roof right now," he said. "It's tough. It's harder to drop our kid off at school every day. Our guard is very high."

Quinones could not be reached.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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