The Grade Blog

Wednesday, Nov 20 2013 04:19 PM

Fruitvale School District responds to sexual assault claim

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Days after a claim was filed against the Fruitvale School District over an alleged sexual assault on a school bus, administrators held a news conference Wednesday to reassure parents and the public that Fruitvale's campuses and buses are safe.

"The Fruitvale School District does not tolerate inappropriate behavior against any student by anyone or at any time," Superintendent Mary Westendorf said in a statement she delivered at a news conference. "The prevention and correction of such misconduct, when it occurs, are a high priority."

On the afternoon of Oct. 22, three boys allegedly assaulted a 13-year-old eighth-grade girl on a bus delivering children home from Fruitvale Junior High School.

A video camera aboard the bus captured the incident.

According to a claim against the district filed on Monday, the boys pulled back the hood of the girl's sweatshirt, choked her, pulled out her hair and shoved her face into a boy's crotch.

It's alleged one attacker grabbed the hands of a boy seated next to the girl and placed them on the girl's breasts. The incident took place over 17 minutes.

Two of the boys have since been expelled, and "other disciplinary measures" were taken against a third, Westendorf said.

Asked the boys' ages, the superintendent said only that "they're in junior high school."

The driver of the bus was "paying attention to the road and didn't see anything," Westendorf said. He was a substitute driver, and is no longer being used on Fruitvale routes, she said.

"We have hired a new driver, and the regular monthly driver in-services will be supplemented with additional management strategies and techniques," she said.

Also, the day after the incident, Fruitvale Junior High School Principal Leslie Roberts rode the bus in question and has had "formal and informal conversations with our students regarding appropriate behavior."

The district is working closely with the student and her parents and "her emotional and educational needs have been our top priority," Westendorf said.

Attorney Daniel Rodriguez, who filed the claim on the family's behalf on Monday, said at the time that the school had broken a promise to segregate students on that bus by gender, and had allowed one of the boys allegedly involved in the incident to ride with the girl after having previously said she wouldn't have to ride with him anymore.

The girl was bullied at school after the assault, Rodriguez said, and her parents have been keeping her home.

The Kern County Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident. As of Wednesday, no criminal charges had been filed.

Westendorf said she was prevented from commenting on the case further due to the ongoing investigation.

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