Parents of a middle school student are threatening to sue Homer A. Plessy Community School, accusing the French Quarter school of failing to promptly inform them and waiting three days to alert the police after their daughter was allegedly sexually assaulted by another student. The family also claims that the student who allegedly assaulted their daughter had a history of similar complaints, and alleges that the school failed to address them.
Attorney Rachel Meese, of Wright, Pichon and Gray, said the school failed to follow proper protocol after the alleged sexual battery occurred at Cabrini Park during school hours.
“There has reportedly been an ongoing pattern of sexual harassment and sexual battery by the alleged assailant both to the victim and other girls from the school,” a press release from Meese’s firm said. The release also alleged the school has “made several missteps in handling this incident, beginning with not properly addressing the prior complaints.”
Meese said those aren’t the parents’ only concerns.
“There have been numerous complaints about the inadequate supervision when the students were at Cabrini Park, which is where they take all of their recesses,” she said in a Tuesday interview. She said the students lacked proper supervision at the day of the park on the day of the alleged incident.
Meese provided a police item number — a city-issued number used to track complaints — that is associated with a misdemeanor sexual battery recorded on Dec. 9 at Cabrini Park, according to city 911 records. But Meese said the incident occurred on Dec. 6, and school officials failed to report it to authorities until the family asked to transfer out of the school. The New Orleans Police Department did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
State law requires teachers and school faculty — and generally anyone who works in a school, including custodians, bus drivers and counselors — to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Most states have similar laws, often called “mandatory reporter” laws.
Meese said the parents did not immediately contact police because they assumed the school had done so.
In an email, Plessy CEO Meghan Raychaudhuri said she could not comment on the alleged incident specifically, citing student privacy rights.
“However, we can say that in any instance when student safety is involved, we follow established school protocol, by contacting parents immediately, contacting the appropriate authorities on the same day as an incident, referring students to school social workers for assistance and undertaking the disciplinary process as necessary,” she wrote. “We believe that we followed this well-established protocol and called appropriate authorities on the same day in relation to every incident that occurred this school year.”
Meese said the girls’ parents weren’t contacted for two hours after the girl reported the incident to school staff. In that time, Meese said, the girl called her parents on her own while waiting in a school office.
“The one thing that was very traumatizing is when she was left alone, the person who sexually battered her was able to walk by and wave at her,” Meese said.
Meese said the school created a safety plan for the girl.
“I believe they forwarded the mother a purported safety plan which basically involved someone checking in with the child once a day and the other child would still be in school,” Meese said.
“They requested an emergency transfer,” Meese said.
After Oct. 1 each school year, NOLA Public Schools allows students to transfer only if they meet the criteria for what the district calls a ‘hardship transfer.’
Safety is one of the allowable reasons to transfer, according to documents. But the student’s home school must submit the request.
Meese said the student won’t return to school until that happens.
“The student has been excused from the doctor from returning to school while they have looked for another placement for her,” she said. As of Wednesday, it had not been granted.
The NOLA Public Schools district, which manages citywide public school enrollment, did not respond to questions Wednesday.
In response to the statement Raychaudhuri’s provided to The Lens, Meese said she has evidence to prove otherwise.
“The facts will demonstrate that none of the protocol listed above were followed in the instant case. The parents and police were not contacted immediately nor were any of the other procedures followed,” she said. “The harm to the child and her family has been and continues to be irreparable.”