Suit Alleges Sexual Abuse at Miami Charter School

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  • MIAMI (AP) — Administrators at a charter school repeatedly failed to take action after a 7-year-old student was bullied and sexually assaulted by an older classmate to the point that he attempted suicide, the boy's mother claims in a lawsuit filed Monday.

    The boy, identified only as "John" in the lawsuit, first told his mother in November 2011 that the 11-year-old boy "made me do something nasty" in the back of a school bus, according to a police report. The boy said he was forced to perform oral sex on the classmate, "J.R." who warned him, "If you don't do this, I'm gonna hurt you," the report says.

    The boy's mother contacted Rebecca Dinda, principal of the Downtown Miami Charter School the boys attended, according to the lawsuit. Dinda assured the mother "the assault would not happen again and that the two children would be separated and closely monitored." But the attorney for the boy's mother, Jeffrey Herman, said the bullying and threats continued, followed by a second sexual assault in a school restroom.

    "They have a duty to prevent that harm from happening with these little kids," Herman told reporters. "The school failed miserably."

    The younger boy's mother said "John" attempted suicide twice after that, once by deliberately standing in traffic with his eyes closed and another time by sticking a metal hanger in an electric socket. The mother, who asked not to be identified by name to protect her son's identity, said he is now taking psychological medications, has frequent difficulty sleeping and making friends and will likely undergo therapy for years.

    "It has been a nightmare, and I would not want anybody to feel the way I do," she said.

    An email seeking comment from Dinda was not returned. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Charter Schools USA Inc., operator of the school, said in a statement it could not comment directly on the lawsuit's allegations but added that "student safety and security are among our highest priorities." The lawsuit also names a bus service and driver as defendants.

    It wasn't immediately clear whether the Miami Police Department had concluded its criminal investigation. Herman said when sex assault allegations are made against one child by another, it's not always clear that the perpetrator knew that a crime was being committed. He added that "J.R." is also undergoing mental counseling.

    Herman said the lawsuit will seek damages "in the millions" to cover what will likely be years of therapy needed for "John," who will no longer attend Downtown Miami Charter. It also could affect his ability to earn a living, Herman said.

    "There will be big damages in this case. His life will never be the same," he said.
     

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