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Federal investigation scrutinizes Framingham school district's handling of student sexual assault allegations

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  April 11, 2013 03:29 PM

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The US Department of Education is investigating allegations that the Framingham school district did not properly handle complaints that a Framingham High School student sexually assaulted two younger female high school students in the school building over the past year.

Framingham’s school superintendent said he was notified Wednesday that the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights plans to look into a number of allegations, including a complaint that the Framingham district did not appropriately handle the sexual assault allegations and did not have appropriate procedures in place to handle them.

In addition, the office will look into a complaint that the school district has not designated a coordinator to oversee the district's compliance with the federal Title IX law, which prohibits sex discrimination in education, according to Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the DOE.

The allegations have roiled the school system and its surrounding community for a number of weeks.

Kevin Fox, a former social worker for the school, said he resigned a few weeks ago because he felt the situation was mishandled. He said the accusations concern a student who allegedly assaulted a female student under a school stairwell in April 2012, and another in a classroom in June 2012.

Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone's office said in a statement that the office investigated in 2012, and decided not to file criminal charges. Leone’s office declined to specify if it investigated both allegations.

"We conducted a comprehensive investigation, assessing the allegations against the well established very high prosecutorial standards of proof and persuasion that we apply to all criminal allegations," the statement reads. "Based on that assessment, we determined that the matter would be closed out without the filing of criminal charges."

Fox said the student received a five-day suspension at the end of the school year in June as punishment.

Framingham Superintendent Stacy Scott, who began his position last July, said he could not comment on discipline taken against students.

Scott said the district will cooperate with the federal investigation. He said he is confident that the local administrators followed federal law exactly during their internal investigation into the sexual allegations.

"I think we'll be found as conforming to the laws and regulations," Scott said, noting that the district has two weeks to provide the federal office information on how their investigation was done.

After the district replies, "that's probably all there will be to it," Scott said.

"Sometimes a complainee misunderstands how we manage our investigations, or they misunderstand the Title IX law," he said.

Scott also noted that as superintendent, he is personally designated as the overseer of Title IX implementation, and that he took the job serious in light of the recent sexual allegations.

"When I did arrive, there were a number of actions I took, including reviewing the procedures and practices that did occur and figure out if anything else could be done in the aftermath to make sure we were following up on the incident," he said.

Scott said that if the federal officers do find non-compliance with Title IX law, the consequences would likely not be as severe as withholding funds or terminating administrators.

"The Office for Civil Rights is always very supportive and collaborative," he said. "If it's found that we did not conform to the laws, then we’ll adjust our policies and procedures to make sure we’ll follow them in the future."

Beverly Hugo, a Framingham School Committee member, said the committee would be poring over the district's policies and procedures as officials investigate the federal complaint.

"The safety and well-being of our students is of paramount importance," Hugo said. "It is our policy to fully cooperate with any supervising agency, and we look forward to receiving any feedback about improving our school climate."

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