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School assailed in girl's assault

As a group of boys groped at her clothes in a Blake High School restroom, the 15-year-old freshman let out several screams. The boys ran, and the girl headed back to her classroom in tears.

She later told an assistant principal that five boys had entered the girl's room, reached over and under the stall she was in, and pulled at her clothes and hair, scratching her face.

It was April 3, a Friday, and on Monday, the girl's father met with Blake Principal David Best.

"He said there was no need to get (police) involved because he was taking care of it," the father recalled recently. "He said the FBI couldn't do a more thorough investigation than what they were going to do."

Two weeks later, frustrated that the school had not identified any of the boys, the girl's mother called the school's police officer.

To police, who opened a criminal battery investigation, it was another frustrating episode involving the public school system. Police say the two-week delay in learning about the girl's report has hindered their investigation.

"We should have learned about this from the school and been on top of it right away," Tampa police spokesman Steve Cole said this week. "This went beyond horseplay."

Best believes he did nothing wrong and said he didn't alert police because he was unaware of the details of the girl's story. He said all the girl told him was that some boys had put their hands under the bathroom stall she was using. He thought it could be handled internally, and he denies ever telling the parents not to call police.

But the parents are adamant that he advised them not to involve the police, and they now believe he wanted to avoid negative publicity since law enforcement agencies routinely make public the details of campus crimes.

A recent Times article detailed other crimes at other school campuses that had not been reported to police. In two cases, sheriff's deputies said they were told by principals that they didn't want to report crimes because they didn't want the bad publicity. The principals later denied making those statements.

State law requires all criminal acts on school campuses be reported to law enforcement. But Hillsborough schools spokesman Mark Hart said following the law isn't that simple.

"Does that in turn say that everything that happens at a school means a principal has to consult police to see if a criminal act has been committed?" he asked.

Cole, the Tampa police spokesman, said it's not the first conflict between police and Blake administrators.

"We're obviously having some problems with the administration over there, and we're going to have to straighten it out," he said.

It was April 21 before the girl told police her version of what had happened in the bathroom on April 3.

She told police she was pulling up her pants inside a restroom stall when five boys entered the bathroom. Two of them hung over the side, "pawing at her and grabbing her hair," while three others reached under the stall, "pulling on her pants and trying to untie her shoes," the report said.

The student told police she could not identify any of the boys. She said she later heard taunts in a crowded school hallway and was called at home by boys mocking her pleas for help in the restroom.

The girl's father said Best urged him to get caller ID in case anyone called again and assured him his daughter would be escorted to class. The girl said Best promised that teachers would be instructed to have female students go to the restroom in groups.

Instead, the father said, his daughter was escorted to class just one day, and several teachers told his daughter they had heard nothing about instructing girls to go the restroom with others.

Best said he did encourage the father to get caller ID, but never promised an escort to class or that teachers would send girls to the restroom in groups.

Hart said school officials are working with police on a policy that will outline when police should be called.