Third-grader sexually assaulted 5-7 times by classmate, official says

RIVERSIDE: Third-grader sexually assaulted 5-7 times by classmate, official says

A third-grade student at a Riverside elementary school sexually assaulted a classmate five to seven times since the pair was in second grade, according to a district spokesperson. The incidents happened at John Adams Elementary School in class when teachers might not see, such as while watching movies, and in the bathroom, said Jacquie Paul, spokesperson for the Riverside Unified School District. The assailant and the victim were both boys, though the nature of their relationship — whether they were friends or rivals — was not disclosed, Paul said. “At this point we don’t believe there are other victims,” but officials are exploring the possibility, Paul stated.  A letter went home to parents on Wednesday, March 19, stating what happened. Also, school officials are holding a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday night, March 20, to discuss the situation. The meeting is open to the public.  School psychologists were on the campus to help students who need it, and the principal stood at the front of the school as parents dropped off their children in the morning.

“I want parents to know everything’s OK,” said the principal, Paul DeFoe.

Officials learned about the assaults on Monday, March 17, when a “small group” of students during an after-school program called HEARTS reported it to the coordinator on duty, the district spokeswoman said.  That official went straight to the principal, who happened to be on campus working late. He immediately contacted law enforcement, Paul said.  The Riverside Police Department and child protective services are investigating as well as the district, which has launched an internal investigation.  The school has taken disciplinary action on the offending student. Paul was unable to say what those actions were, but she said the student was no longer present on the campus.  The two teachers who may have been present when the assaults happened were placed on paid administrative leave while officials investigate, Paul said.  Police officials were unable to say whether the parents of the offending student were suspected of any wrong-doing that may have influenced the boy to act as he did, according to police Lt. Val Graham.  “We’re investigating every angle,” Graham said. “It’s routine for detectives to look at any reason for why something like this could have occurred.”

The incident shocked the staff at Adams Elementary, a small, tightly knit school of only 555 students, officials said.  “This is a first for us and it’s a very sad, difficult situation,” Paul said.  Parents dropping their children off Thursday morning said the incident has caused them to talk to their children about sex crimes.  “I talked to them just this morning,” said Joe Pule about his two daughters who attend the school. “If somebody touches you or something, tell somebody right away.” For some parents, the incident raised questions about school safety. “The teachers are not aware of the students,” said Jennifer Gomez, whose child goes to kindergarden at Adams. “Were they not watching them? They’re supposed to be taking care of them.”

On Wednesday when the assault was reported on the evening news it caused a rush of cars to the elementary school to pick children up from their after-school activities, said Louis Clark who lives next door to the campus. “You should have seen the parents tearing into (the parking lot) to pick up those kids,” he said.

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