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School sex act prompts penalty

(Published September 23, 2002)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

Two 14-year-old D.C. public school students were suspended in early September for engaging in sexual intercourse under a hallway stairwell inside their school.

"They were caught in the hall by my security person, engaging in a sexual act," said Theodore Hinton, principal of Patricia Roberts Harris Educational Center, where the incident happened shortly after lunch on Sept. 5, the third day of the new school year.

The incident was initially included in Metropolitan Police Department crime reports as a sexual assault, but a police spokesman confirmed that the alleged rape victim later "recanted" her story. Hinton said the students, when caught at about 1 p.m., immediately acknowledged their behavior "was not a forced act." He said police were called after "the story was changed once the young lady got home."

Hinton said both students were immediately given 10-day suspensions and their parents were called in for a hearing. Both are now back in school. "We’ve had no repercussions," Hinton said.

A school security guard discovered the students while investigating motion detected by a security camera in the area, Hinton said. He said the girl was returning to class from visiting the school nurse and the boy was on his way to class after lunch when the encounter occurred.

"We held an assembly with our students on the secondary level the next day to tell them what happened, without identifying the students involved, and to explain the kinds of activities that cannot be engaged in on school grounds," Hinton said.

Harris Educational Center, located at 4600 Livingston Road SE in Ward 8, has 905 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten through grade 8. The school, constructed on an open space layout, also is being used this year as "swing space" to accommodate students enrolled at Patterson Elementary School, which was demolished to make way for a new building currently under construction.

While acknowledging that "these things happen," Hinton – who has worked in the D.C. Public Schools system for 35 years – said he dealt with the situation "by the book."

D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz said she was informed of the incident and is "satisfied that parents are being brought in and they’re handling it right."

District IV school board member William Lockridge, who represents the area in which the incident occurred, said he heard about the incident "through word of mouth" from parents and planned to discuss it with the school’s principal, for whom he expressed high regard.

"We’ll be trying to ensure that this doesn’t happen again," Lockridge said.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator