TAMPA — The school year ended with psychologists at Walker Middle School, and it will begin the same way.
Hillsborough school officials said Thursday they will send a team of psychologists and counselors to the Odessa school later this month. Their task: Try to figure out how a series of alleged locker room rapes could go unreported over a two-month period.
But if their first visit in May involved lots of talking, the next one will be more about listening and watching.
"It's trying to learn something by going out to the school, talking to kids, and learning about the culture," said spokesman Stephen Hegarty. "Trying to learn answers to the questions everyone has been asking."
Four boys — Randall John Moye III, 14, Lee Louis Myers, 14, Raymond Price-Murray, 14, and Diemante J. Roberts, 15 — have been charged as adults with four counts each of sexual battery. All have pleaded not guilty to charges of raping a 13-year-old flag football teammate with a hockey stick and broom handle.
At least nine students witnessed the attacks, according to court documents, and not one spoke up or reported them to a teacher.
That struck School Board member April Griffin as both mystifying and, if true, outrageous.
"If they watched these situations take place, and there was more than one, I want this district to investigate," she said at Tuesday's board meeting. "I would like some repercussions for those students. I cannot sit back in good conscience and not do anything as a school district."
By Thursday, after discussions with superintendent MaryEllen Elia, she was striking a more moderate tone.
"I do understand if we're punitive with the kids who watched, it's going to be much more difficult to get kids to report it in the future," Griffin said. "We can't be too punitive in our approach to this. But kids do need to know that if they egg things on, there do need to be consequences for that."
Other board members said they supported sending psychologists back to Walker, and perhaps other schools in the district.
"Are there things we should do differently at all schools?" asked member Candy Olson. "Walker is an extreme case, but we also know there is bullying in probably every school in the world."
Member Doretha Edgecomb said it's crucial to figure out the social dynamics that make such bullying incidents possible, then work to repair them.
"I think that's what we know about bullying," she said. "It's all about respect and ownership and caring about each other."
But the district shouldn't shy away from talking directly with students who might have looked the other way at Walker, once the courts have finished their work, she said.
"I think what's important is a total investigation," Edgecomb said.
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.