A state investigation is underway into a reported incident of sexual harassment of a sixth grader attending at Caleb Dustin Hunking School, but Haverhill school officials say federal rules temporarily have their hands tied.
Attorney Amy McDonald Rogers of Lyons & Rogers told the Haverhill School Committee’s Policy Subcommittee Friday morning the city must adopt the federal government’s newly updated procedures for such incidents. Committee Chairman Gail M. Sullivan and member Toni Sapienza-Donais are drawing up the new policy and will present it to the rest of the School Committee for approval. The matter was unexpectedly and graphically detailed by a mother who addressed the School Committee during a meeting broadcast live by WHAV last Thursday night.
“I am here because my daughter advocated for herself and her friends regarding sexual harassment that has not been handled correctly. My daughter is in sixth grade. She was walking to talk to her best friend at recess when she was approached by a boy she doesn’t even know. He approached her with a hot dog in his hand, rubbing and swinging against his groin. He then shoved the hot dog into her face against her nose saying, ‘You want to suck it. I know you want to suck it.’ I was quite shocked and horrified by the situation that took place but I am extremely grateful that my daughter was so comfortable telling me and standing up for herself and her friends,” she said.
School Committee member Maura Ryan-Ciardiello invited the mother to speak after the Committee received email from her.
The mother went on to say her daughter told the recess monitor what happened, but the boy was told only to stop and not do it again. A warning that apparently went unheeded when he allegedly repeated the motions shortly after to her daughter’s friend. According to the girl’s mother, when her daughter told the same monitor that it had happened again, she was told “There’s nothing more I can do.”
Donais told WHAV this weekend the young man’s actions are now being investigated by the state Department of Children and Families.
Committee members were unanimous in expressing their revulsions of the incident, saying school staff must be educated and clear and appropriate penalties adopted for such actions, as Donais explained.
“I definitely think that we need to have a policy that is zero tolerance and I think that it should be explicitly outlined what the consequences of behaviors are so there is no gray area.”
Donais said the new federal rules to be adopted are lengthy, complicated and very specific. They specify a team of three people who must take at least 10 days to investigate all reports. During that time, she said, no penalties can be enforced.