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Published: Saturday, 4/16/2005

Sitting on bad news

IT S bad enough that a sexual assault on a developmentally disabled high school girl in Columbus apparently occurred before an audience of other students in the Mifflin High School auditorium.

But it is nearly inconceivable that school administrators where the assault occurred sat on the information for an hour before contacting the victim s parents and then reportedly tried to dissuade a distraught father from immediately contacting the police.

The young girl was allegedly accosted by several boys in the auditorium, punched, and forced to perform oral sex on at least two of them.

According to statements of school officials obtained by the Columbus Dispatch, dozens of students watched the attack and one even videotaped it. A student witness told investigators he looked for a school guard but couldn t find one.

Eventually the auditorium attackers fled and witnesses helped the shaken girl find her way to a security employee. A special education teacher was quoted as saying the traumatized student victim has a severe speech impediment and can be difficult to understand.

Others observed the girl bleeding from the mouth, looking dazed, confused, and crying. After school officials apparently knew about the attack for an hour, Assistant Principal Richard Watson decided to watch the video.

When the victim s father was finally contacted, he joined his daughter in the administrator s office and immediately demanded that police be called. But special education teacher Lisa Upshaw quoted Mr. Watson as saying: No, we don t want to do that, we don t want the police.

In his statements the assistant principal insisted he only counseled the father not to call 911 because the media might find out about the incident and cause further mental trauma to the victim.

Or cause undue embarrassment to the school.

Shameful barely begins to describe the school s reluctance to involve police from the beginning.

While the student suspects are being investigated, the Columbus school district has begun moves to terminate the contract of the high school principal who was present when the alleged attack was reported and didn t call police.

It has suspended Mr. Watson and two other administrators for 10 days, without pay, with plans to assign them elsewhere when they return.

But any school official whose first response to a reported sexual assault of a student disabled no less is not to get immediate help and police intervention but to wait and watch a tape, doesn t deserve a second chance to get it right.

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