Columbia County school staff suspended

LAKE CITY, Fla. -- The Columbia County School District released documents revealing the disciplinary action of school staff members at Pinemount Elementary after the district launched an investigation into how the school failed to respond appropriately in an alleged sexual abuse case involving a student.

Pinemount Elementary Principal Donna McAdams is facing a seven day suspension without pay. Public records from the Columbia County School District say McAdams did not appropriately respond after learning of an alleged off-campus sexual abuse case involving a student.

"I had to do some self-searching about what I thought was appropriate," said Superintendent Terry Huddleston of the Columbia County School District.

Superintendent Huddleston says the six school personnel involved were suspended with pay for about two days during the investigation. Four school employees including a teacher and guidance counselor will not be facing further suspension because they reported the incident to Assistant Principal Marilyn Gassett.

The report says Principal McAdams then told Gassett to arrange a parent-teacher conference and the report says after the conference McAdams "relied upon the express denial and representations of the mother and grandmother which directly contradicted the report alleging abuse."

"As educators we have a responsibility to report and I've always tried to preach it's our job to report and not to investigate," added Huddleston.

On April 11th the child told two students on the bus that she was raped by a relative, according to police and school reports. The District wasn't notified until April 21st, when a detective from the Columbia County Sheriff's Office was on campus investigating the alleged abuse. The Sheriff's Office arrested Arnold Lyles and charged him with sexual battery on a victim under 12 years of age.

The Department of Children and Families has taken the child and sibling into protective custody. Superintendent Huddleston says he plans to have more training for school employees.

We tried to reach out to Principal McAdams and called a phone number listed for her, but First Coast News was hung up on after we identified ourselves.

The Superintendent says he has not set the dates for McAdams' suspension yet and will schedule it when it will least affect the District. We are also waiting on documents to find out if Assistant Principal Gassett will face additional suspension. That information will not be available until 10 days after she was notified.

The documents released by the District also say the Superintendent has not made a final determination on the status of McAdams' contract renewal.

The Department of Children and Families would like to remind everyone that as of 2012, everyone is required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the Florida Abuse Hotline.

Related: Police say school staffers failed to report alleged sexual abuse


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