Parents wonder about answers

February 28, 2007 12:00 am

By Karen Wilkinson

Triplicate staff writer

More than 20 parents and community members attended a Tuesday meeting to question Del Norte County School District officials in light of an alleged sexual assault at Crescent Elk Middle School.

But for the most part, their inquiries went unresolved, as two parallel investigations — by the Crescent City Police and the school district — are incomplete, and neither agency can yet legally disclose details.

"We followed the laws and especially the responsibility to keep confidentiality of children," Superintendent Jan Moorehouse said. "(But) we don't do cover-ups — we do not want to jeopardize a child's future by sharing things."

Crescent Elk Principal Bill Hartwick called Crescent City Police to respond to an incident at the in-town middle school at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 6.

The rumors since have spun out of control. Some parents say a pair or trio of boys attempted to rape a girl while a female school employee — who is said to have previously allowed them to view pornography — supervised.

Letter sent home

A letter was sent home to parents two days after the alleged attack, which focused on dispelling gossip and didn't provide specifics.

But that letter and Tuesday's meeting may have been too little too late as only two days prior to Feb. 6, parent Phyllis Rickner said Hartwick was informed that boys inappropriately touched other girls at the school.

"He was pre-warned, then this assault took place," she said. "Our children are not being watched over."

Crescent City Police Officer Erik Apper-son, who also serves as the school resource officer, conceded something occurred just prior, which involved the same boys "at some level," but added no criminal report was taken. The girl said it was "simply a case of horseplay."

Questions about teacher

And questions of the female employee's future flooded the room.

"What's to say (she) won't go to another school," the victim's mother said. "I don't want her to work with children again."

Moorehouse earlier this week said the teacher resigned and that the "supervision was inadequate."

Apperson, who said he's investigating a battery case, confirmed an adult was in the room, but noted he still has to speak with more people not directly involved before the investigation is complete.

"I can tell you, in my investigation, the stories contradict each other," he said, adding there are always three sides to a story. "(But) regardless if charges are requested or not, this will be a full-blown investigation."

Even so, parents still want to know what is being done differently at Crescent Elk to avoid similar occurrences.

"We need to educate our students on what is appropriate and what is not," Hartwick said. "We need to continue to get the message out that these things are not acceptable."

And when it comes to keeping a close eye on employees, he said administrators "will be as visible as possible."

Benita Cabrera of the North Coast Rape Crisis Team, said sexual harassment and rape prevention programs are provided to every school in the county, and the case load at Crescent Elk isn't any worse than other schools.

"It's not more in one school than another," she said.