Archive for Sunday, October 15, 2006

Lawsuit: School kept mum about child rapes

October 15, 2006


— On March 16, 2004, a first-grader at Allentown's Central Elementary School was preparing for early dismissal and, before leaving, walked alone into a bathroom.

He entered a stall where, moments later, the door burst open. An older student, a 12-year-old who had slipped out of detention and into the bathroom, attacked the 6-year-old, removing his pants and raping him.

The first-grader told his teacher, but the teacher simply dismissed him with the rest of his class. The boy then told his father, who reported the assault to school administrators, who balked at notifying police. The father called the police, and later that afternoon the attacker was detained and identified by the younger boy.

School officials already knew of him: He had previously raped three other children in the school.

Those are among the allegations in a federal lawsuit against the Allentown School District, various school administrators and teachers, and Lehigh Valley Hospital.

Three families file suit

In all, four first-graders were raped by the 12-year-old in bathroom stalls in the elementary school between December 2003 and March 2004, according to the 125-page lawsuit filed in August in Philadelphia.

The families of three of the children filed the suit, which seeks $15 million in damages. It claims then-Principal Eva Haddon, several teachers, various administrators and two LVH nurses assigned to the school knew of the assaults immediately after they occurred and, by law, were required to contact police and other authorities, but did not.

The Lehigh County district attorney's office prosecuted the 12-year-old, charging him with rape, aggravated indecent assault and indecent assault, according to the suit.

First Assistant Dist. Atty. Maria Dantos, who handles cases involving juveniles, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The boy was declared delinquent by a Lehigh County Family Court judge in 2004 and sent to the Harborcreek Youth Services treatment center near Erie, where he must stay until he is 18, the suit says.

School district solicitor John Freund did not dispute that attacks occurred, but did take issue with other claims in the lawsuit.

"The complaint contains vast overstatements about the school district's foreknowledge," Freund said.

"The complaint speaks for itself," said Scott Wilhelm, a Phillipsburg attorney who represents the three children and their parents.

The lawsuit

According to the suit, filed Aug. 28:

The 12-year old, identified as F.H., had been diagnosed with behavioral and psychological problems before being transferred to Central Elementary from another Allentown school that is not identified.

Central is one of Allentown's poorest and lowest-performing schools.

The first attack occurred in December 2003 and was witnessed by a second-grade student, who told his teacher. The teacher walked into the bathroom and found F.H. and a 6-year old boy in or near a stall.

F.H. admitted to certain acts, then ran out of the bathroom. The first-grader was taken to the main office, where he told Haddon, Assistant Principal Bradley Carter and other school personnel what happened.

None of the school officials contacted the police, and F.H. was allowed to remain in the student population.

Several weeks later, F.H. raped another 6-year-old, who ran out of the bathroom and into the hallway with his pants down.

An unidentified first-grade teacher helped the boy, then took him and F.H. to the main office, where the boy described the assault.

Again, according to the suit, the administration failed to call police.

In the third case, the suit alleges, school officials lied to another parent, claiming they had called police when her son was assaulted.

The assaults stopped after the father of the boy assaulted in the fourth attack called police.


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