Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Education

Student accused of molesting younger child at Calvin Hunsinger School in Clearwater

CLEARWATER — A student at Calvin A. Hunsinger School has been arrested, accused of sexually molesting a younger child in a bathroom in the school last week.

The school district's campus police arrested the suspect on a charge of lewd and lascivious battery, a district official confirmed Friday. While district officials refused to release the ages of the two students, Bay News 9 reported that the suspect is 14 and the victim is 8. Because the suspect is a juvenile, his name was not released by authorities.

District spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra told the Tampa Bay Times she did not know if the victim received medical attention or was hospitalized after the incident.

The school district released a statement Friday addressing the alleged assault at Calvin Hunsinger, a K-12 school that serves students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, as well as the beating of a student there Wednesday that was videotaped by a student and posted on Facebook.

The statement said Calvin Hunsinger has specially trained staff and an "excellent reputation" of serving students with such disabilities.

"Unfortunately, there are incidents that occur where there is inappropriate student behavior," the statement read. "The school district is working with the appropriate agencies to investigate two recent incidents at the school involving inappropriate student behavior. … Any time a parent has a concern, the most productive and effective way to address a concern is to discuss it with the school's administration."

Principal Stephanie Bessette did not respond to a voicemail message left by the Times Friday on her home phone.

However, Bessette sent an automated message to parents Friday evening, saying, "I am calling to inform you that we are currently investigating two incidents of inappropriate student behavior that recently occurred at school. Please know that we take the safety of your Calvin Hunsinger student very seriously. We strive to provide an excellent learning environment to meet the unique needs of your student."

She invited parents with concerns to call her Monday.

The Feb. 8 incident in the school bathroom remained under investigation Friday, Parra said. She said no other sexual assaults have occurred at Calvin Hunsinger this school year.

However, the school clearly has disciplinary challenges. During the 2011-2012 school year, 75 of the school's 119 students received out-of-school suspensions — a rate of 63 percent. A typical Pinellas high school that year had a suspension rate of 11 percent, a typical middle school 16.8 percent.

Lori Chauvin of Largo, mother of the 14-year-old girl whose brutal beating at the school Wednesday was captured on video and uploaded to Facebook, said Calvin Hunsinger is understaffed and dangerous.

Her daughter Vanessa lay in bed Friday, frequently vomiting, with throbbing bruises on her head, neck and stomach, Chauvin said.

"When I toured the school, I saw no teachers monitoring the bathrooms," Chauvin said. "And Vanessa learned that the hard way."

In September, Chauvin said, Vanessa, who is a freshman, was dragged into a bathroom by an older boy, but escaped before he injured her.

"He told her, 'I'm going to ruin your life if you say anything,' " said Chauvin, who permanently removed Vanessa from the school Wednesday.

Though elementary, middle and high school students have their own defined areas at the school, Vanessa said students often slip out of classrooms and could wander into other areas.

"It's very, very easy to walk from the high school area to where the elementary school kids are," she said. "Even easier if you're in the middle school area."

Chauvin said she complained to teachers after her daughter was beaten up three times on campus, but she always received the same response.

"They kept telling me, 'There was a kink in the chain. There was a kink in the chain,' " she said. "In a school like this, how many kinks can you afford to have in the chain?"

Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.

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