LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The State Attorney's Office has said it will not file charges of failure to report suspected child abuse against Imagine Schools Lakewood Ranch principal Selenia Quinones.
Quinones faced possible charges in connection to a report that 4-year-old students at Imagine Schools Lakewood Ranch had performed oral sex on one another. However, the State Attorney's Office investigated that Quinones had insufficient evidence to believe that such an event had occurred.
The State Attorney's investigation and the charter board at Imagine Schools Lakewood Ranch investigation both confirmed that on April 11, a student told his voluntary pre-kindergarten teacher Roxie Borchert that he and a group of other boys had exposed themselves.
Borchert and teacher Kathy Lawson talked to each boy involved separately, and then Quinones talked to the parents of the students involved.
The State Attorney's Office report said Quinones "took appropriate action," and a report of this incident was not required.
The report reads:
"There was no evidence that the 4-year-old boys exposing themselves to each other was done for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification, aggression or degradation. The children were disciplined and their
parents were notified."
In July, a parent of one of the juveniles involved called Quinones and told her that her son confided in her that he saw two classmates, both 4-year-old boys, engaging in oral sex.
According to the State Attorney's report, Quinones corrected the mother, believing the incident the mother was referring to was the exposure.
The charter board's investigation and the State Attorney's Office investigation yielded nearly identical conclusions.
The State Attorney's office report reads:
"There is insufficient evidence to prove that the defendant believed oral sex had occurred and then willfully ignored her obligation to report the act to the department. Without such proof, the charges must be declined."
The case was handled by assistant state attorney Brian Chambers.
Chambers said the conclusion of the investigation is not an indication of Quinones' job as a principal.
"As far as calling the hot-line and reporting, it is not a crime that she didn't call because she didn't believe there was anything to report," Chambers said. "Her take was that she did not get the details. There is no evidence that she had reasonable suspicion that oral sex had occurred and willfully failed to report it."
Chambers said that Quinones made a reasonable claim when she said she believed the parent she spoke to in July was mistaken.
"It comes down to one person's word against another, and unfortunately, it does not give us proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Chambers said. "I told the parents involved that if additional evidence becomes available that (Quinones) did know what was going on, it is something that could be reassessed."
Chambers said that there are still "a lot of moving parts." The children involved were interviewed by Child Protective Services.
"They are doing what they need to do as far as counseling, and that can be ongoing," Chambers said.
It is up to the charter board and the school board to make a decision about Quinones' employment at the school. On Friday, the governing board chairman of Imagine Schools Lakewood Ranch Bob Wilson said the boards have not decided.
Steve Valley, spokesperson for the Manatee County School District, said the decision to keep Quinones employed is completely up to the charter board.
"The school board sponsors the charter schools, but they are not school district employees," Valley said.
Wilson said he is "happy with the outcome."
"We are wanting to get back to normalcy within the school. Safety has always been at the forefront of what we have done here, and (Quinones') actions were validated."
In a statement released by Imagine Schools' attorney, Shawn A. Arnold, school officials said they "are very pleased to announce that the State Attorney's office has decided not to file charges against Ms. Quinones. We applaud this well-reasoned decision and would like to thank Mr. (Ed) Brodsky's office and his assistant state attorneys for the hard work and diligence they showed during this investigation."
The school is holding a news conference at its Lakewood Ranch campus at 10 a.m. Monday "to address this matter," the statement said.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.