CLEARWATER — Two parents have retained lawyers and announced they plan to sue the Pinellas County School District after their children were assaulted by fellow students at Calvin A. Hunsinger School in February.
The mothers say a lack of supervision at the Clearwater school, which serves emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children in grades K-12, caused their children severe, possibly permanent, harm. Both said they plan to sue for negligence.
One of the mothers, who lives in Pinellas Park, believes that on Feb. 8 an older boy raped her 8-year-old son in a school bathroom. The Times is not naming the mother to protect the identity of her child.
The third-grader, who is autistic, told his mother, Hunsinger principal Stephanie Bessette and school resource officer Joseph TenBieg that a "big boy" ordered him to pull down his pants, stood behind him and did something that "really hurt." A 14-year-old student was arrested that day by school district police on a charge of lewd and lascivious molestation, a second-degree felony.
But TenBieg, the mother claims, strongly advised her not to take her son to a doctor to be examined for proof of a sexual assault, saying it would further traumatize the child.
"I now think that was to cover it all up," she said. "I was scared and didn't know what to do, so I listened."
The mother, 40, said her attorney, Thomas D. Roebig Jr. of the Tampa firm Florin Roebig, served the district a notice of representation on March 1. Because Florida law requires a six-month notification period before suing a government entity, the lawsuit can't be filed until September.
The school district won't comment on any pending litigation, said spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra. Parra also would not provide a copy of the notice of representation or the district's response, saying those documents can be withheld under the state's public records law because they are part of the school district's risk management claims files.
Parra did say that an investigation of the incident is ongoing.
"I'm just outraged because it never should have happened," the mother said this week. "There is a serious lack of security and supervision at that school."
The school district, she said, sent her attorney a letter last week acknowledging receipt of the notice. On Thursday, the mother said, a district employee asked to record an interview with her son.
"But they won't be talking to him," the mother said. "They'll talk to me."
She doesn't yet know how much money she'll seek in damages.
"I just want to see things change," she said, "so the kids are safer."
Her son is now enrolled at Azalea Elementary School in St. Petersburg, she said, and is doing well, but he's still afraid to use the school bathroom.
The Pinellas Park woman is not the only upset mother who says she is preparing to sue the school district over an incident at Calvin Hunsinger School.
On Feb. 13, a female classmate beat up Lori Chauvin's 14-year-old daughter, Vanessa, outside Hunsinger as a male student shot video on his phone. He uploaded it to Facebook, intensifying Vanessa's grief, the Largo mother said.
"Every time she sees that video online, she relives the pain," she said. "I relive the pain."
The attacker, Chauvin said, had just walked out of in-school detention when she found Vanessa, grabbed her ponytail and repeatedly kneed her stomach and face.
Vanessa suffered a concussion, broken jaw and cracked eye socket, Chauvin said.
"She hasn't been the same since," she said. "My girl who'd always wake up at 5 a.m. now sleeps until 1 p.m. She won't get up. She just wants to lay in my lap."
Vanessa is now home-schooled, she said.
Chauvin recently hired Tampa attorney John Thurber to file a lawsuit. He plans to serve the school a notice of representation next week, she said.
"For Vanessa and all the other students," Chauvin said, "we need to fix this problem. The violence has to stop."
Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.