District says it handled student sex case properly

LAKE CITY, Fla. -- Shortly after the Columbia County School District launched an investigation on whether staff members failed to report sexual abuse involving a student at Pinemount Elementary, First Coast News learned there was another unrelated incident at Niblack Elementary that may have also gone unreported.

In response to our request, the School District began investigating and concluded that Niblack Elementary staff appropriately handled the two incidents in the 2012 to 2013 school year where a male student allegedly touched a female student through her clothes. The male student was suspended both times and the incidents were referred to law enforcement for investigation, but the Department of Children and Families says it was never notified.

"It certainly causes a great deal of concern and we would expect that the parents in Columbia County would be concerned as well," said John Harrell, DCF.

The School District has not said which law enforcement agency it notified. The Columbia County Sheriff's Office says it hasn't found any record of the incident. Lake City Police say they don't have a report, but are still searching their records.

"If they contact law enforcement that's fine, but we need to be contacted as well. That's why the law is very clear in saying that any time a child is neglected or abused, any time there's even a suspicion of that, it's got to be reported to DCF," added Harrell.

The School District says the inappropriate behavior was consensual among both students and the parents were satisfied with how the district handled it. No charges were filed. The Superintendent says while inappropriate, the behavior did not constitute abuse or raise a suspicion of child abuse, DCF says they determine if there was abuse or neglect.

"We do a thorough investigation, but we can't investigate unless people report it to us," said Harrell.

The Principal of Niblack Elementary at the time of the incidents was Marilyn Gassett. She is the Assistant Principal at Pinemount Elementary who is now being demoted to teacher after failing to properly report an off-campus sexual abuse case involving a student at the school. The School Board says it did not find any personnel at fault in the Niblack Elementary case .

First Coast News is waiting to learn which law enforcement agency conducted an investigation.


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