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Another sexual assault accusation made against Walker Middle School

TAMPA — The parents of a teenage special-needs student plan to sue the Hillsborough County School District because they say their daughter was repeatedly molested at Walker Middle School, the school already embroiled in a sexual assault investigation.

An attorney for the family, Chris Knopik, said the 13-year-old girl was molested between February and May by some male special-needs students on a bus, while the bus driver and an adult aide were on board.

"They were supposedly supervising the students," Knopik said.

When deputies questioned the male students, they all admitted they were involved in sexual acts, said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter. However, the girl's parents signed waivers stating they wouldn't prosecute, she said.

Knopik said Saturday that the parents felt pressured by the school district and Sheriff's Office to not pursue a criminal investigation. Carter said she hadn't heard that allegation.

Knopik also said the girl, who has cognitive and hearing impairments, and another female student were taken into a boys restroom at the school, where one or more of the same male students attempted to have them perform sexual acts.

"If I were a parent with children at Walker Middle School, it would cause me great concern," he said.

The girl's parents filed an intent to sue in May. The school district has six months from that notice to investigate before a lawsuit can be filed, according to state law.

The case is unrelated to the alleged locker room rape of a male student in April. Four students have been charged with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old classmate in a high-profile case that prompted the district to intensify its anti-bullying efforts.

Knopik said his clients told school officials that their daughter was being molested, but were encouraged to drop the matter.

"To put it diplomatically," Knopik said, "their complaints were waved off."

That wasn't the case, said school district spokesman Stephen Hegarty. The district referred the case to the Sheriff's Office after the parents notified officials, he said.

After the parents signed the Sheriff's Office waiver to not prosecute, deputies closed their investigation and the school district opened its. It hasn't been completed yet, Hegarty said.

The bus driver and several aides were transferred to other positions, he said. The district chose to move all aides who worked on the bus during the four-month time frame in question.

"We're not even sure who might have been involved," Hegarty said.

The parents transferred their daughter to another school. They plan to file a lawsuit soon, Knopik said, although a date has not yet been set.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Another sexual assault accusation made against Walker Middle School 11/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 14, 2009 9:01pm]
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