, , , ,

Beloit Community Criticizes School District’s Handling Of Sexual Assault Allegations

Multiple Sources Say Alleged Assailant Is School Board Member's Son

Beloit Memorial High School
Beloit Memorial High School. Adam Lautenbach (CC BY)

Students and parents in the School District of Beloit are demanding accountability and answers after the district’s handling of alleged sexual assaults on a recent school trip.

In early April, members of the Beloit Memorial High School’s band traveled to Florida. A male student allegedly assaulted two female students during the trip.

One assault occurred during the bus ride from Beloit to Orlando, as the students were preparing to sleep. The other occurred at a waterpark and the male student later attempted to assault the female student again back at the hotel, according to an Orange County Sheriff’s Office incident report obtained by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The female student who had two unwanted encounters with the male student told a chaperone, who contacted the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

“She was so far away, a thousand miles away, and there was nothing I could do,” said Mary Anne, the stepmother of the survivor who came forward. Wisconsin Public Radio is only using her first-name to protect the identities of the minors involved.

“I couldn’t be there for her. None of us could be there for her. It was terrifying,” she said. “But we are very proud of her for being the one that actually did speak up.”

Mary Anne said the alleged assailant was taken back to Wisconsin by his parents, and that the Orange County Sheriff’s Office is pressing charges.

Beloit Memorial High School initially gave the alleged assailant — whom multiple sources say is the son of a school board member — a three-day suspension. Mary Anne and others — including several students and a district employee — say that was too lenient.

At a school board meeting on Tuesday, April 23, Lakya Jackson, the board’s student representative and Memorial’s senior class president, addressed the incidents and punishment.

“If we can place staff on administrative leave for a week for allegations surrounding the usage of inappropriate language without any sufficient evidence, I think it’s safe to say we can provide a consequence a bit more severe than just three days suspension for a student who is accused of sexually assaulting not one but three of our very own students,” Jackson said.

Beloit’s interim superintendent, Anthony Bosco, said the district has a code of conduct governing student behavior and discipline, and that Memorial’s administrative team, district staff and the district’s legal counsel are conducting an investigation and complying with that code, which affords due process and the right of privacy to all students.

“The situation could be somewhat fluid in terms of information being brought that would potentially change the discipline situation,” Bosco told WPR, meaning further punishment could come when the investigation concludes.

The code defines prohibited behavior and offers punishment guidelines. Sexual conduct or harassment — which includes “inappropriate touching, patting, pinching, hugging, intentionally brushing against another’s body, pulling at another’s clothing, or forcing another to a wall or corner through body position or movement” — is a level three infraction and typically leads to “out-of-school options like suspension.” Level three infractions are “subject to administrative discretion.” Sexual battery — defined as “threatened rape, fondling and indecent liberties” — is a level four infraction, the most serious offense level. These “require referral for an administrative hearing,” and are “grounds for expulsion and will result in a mandatory five day out-of-school suspension,” according to the code.

Mary Anne said she was informed by her daughter about the alleged assailant’s three-day suspension, not by any employee of the district or school. Only after she requested a meeting with district staff did she and her family learn about the investigation and the possibility of further punishment.

A Lack Of Transparency

Mary Anne said that throughout this process, she and her family have been frustrated by the lack of transparency, as well as the fact that her daughter has had to attend school with her attacker.

“She doesn’t want to go to school, but she has been,” Mary Anne said of her daughter. “It bothers her to be in the same building as someone who had chased her down and cornered her in a stairwell.”

Mary Anne said school counselors provided her daughter with a safety plan, which Bosco said were provided to all the female students involved. But Mary Anne said she’s frustrated that the plan burdens her daughter, not the alleged assailant.

The plan permits Mary Anne’s daughter to leave school five minutes early to avoid the male student. Mary Anne said that’s “better than nothing,” but that it puts “the disruption of education” on her daughter’s shoulders.

Bosco said further disciplinary action is pending the results of the investigation, and that there are “due process” and “protections of all students” to consider. He said the district is legally bound to protect student privacy, which has so far prevented staff from informing the family about whether or not the alleged assailant will continue to attend school.

One district employee, behavior interventionist Kathy Crawford, acknowledged the importance of process, but suggested the school could have provided an “alternative learning environment” for the alleged assailant until the investigation ended.

“Just so the young ladies who had to deal with that don’t have to relieve that trauma,” she said.

Mary Anne said there is a “glaring hole” for survivors in the policy. “The school district in our opinion has failed to protect the girls from having to see their assailant, be in school with their assailant,” she said.

The Student Reponse

Memorial seniors like Lakya Jackson and Harley Rae Stevens agree with Mary Anne and have shown support for the survivors through demonstrations on social media and on campus.

Jackson, the senior class president, helped organize two protests on Tuesday, one in the morning and another before the school board’s meeting, where students held signs with slogans like “silent no more.”

“The people that were intended to receive the message, I don’t think they got it as well as we intended them to,” said Jackson.

During Jackson’s student representative presentation, she said: “I can’t bring myself to believe that we’ve intended to continuously spoon feed this trauma to the victims but by allowing their alleged abuser in our hallways and our classrooms in our district just days after and literally refuse to comment on the issue.”

Board president Pam Charles did not thank Jackson for her remarks or address the incidents. Jackson says Charles typically thanks her and offers the board a chance to ask her questions. This time, Charles moved onto the next agenda item without comment.

“I was looking for the board president to acknowledge the concerns at least and try to understand how the community feels, how the students feel, because at the end of the day that is her job: to serve us,” said Jackson.

Bosco said it would have been unusual for the board to have an agenda item about the reports at this time.

“The board would only be involved in a situation like this were it to come to an administrative hearing,” he said. However, he clarified that Charles could have addressed the allegations and the student protestors if she so chose.

Charles said by email that the board could comment on neither the identity of the alleged assailant nor “student behavior and discipline issues” due to federal and state law.

“Our school board cares about our students and we hope that the community can understand that we must protect the privacy of our students by not having public discussion on confidential matters,” she wrote.

For now, Mary Anne and her family are taking matters day by day. She said they will continue to advocate for her daughter and use their experience to educate other parents — especially about the potential legal and jurisdictional challenges if an assault occurs on a field trip across city or state lines.

A Frustrating Process

She said they’re tired and frustrated, both by the way the process has unfolded and the people leading it, such as Bosco.

In January 2018, the Beloit Daily News reported that Bosco was “disciplined for inappropriately touching a female teacher” in 2013.

Bosco received a one-day suspension without pay and underwent an alcohol evaluation, according to the paper.

The Beloit Daily News also published an excerpt of a letter written by Bosco, in which he wrote: “As an administrator and as a person, I accept responsibility for the mistake I made in April of 2013 and have learned from that isolated incident.”

“It’s been pretty disheartening that the current interim superintendent is sort of the one that has his hands on this, and he himself has been accused of sexually inappropriately touching a female teacher,” said Mary Anne.

She said Bosco attended the meetings her family had with school administrators.

“That made us feel just very uncomfortable,” she said. “I certainly don’t think that he should be part of any sexual assault investigation involving people in the district.”

When asked for comment, Bosco said the superintendent’s office is supporting the investigation, not leading it, and that he and his staff are working to ensure the entire situation is resolved in alignment with the district’s code of conduct.

He referred WPR to board president Charles, who said by email: “The board trusts our administrative team to handle all matters appropriately and in accordance with board policy and state laws.”

Despite the challenges and frustrations with the district, Mary Anne said she and her family have received an “overwhelming amount of support” from students, parents and teachers, like Crawford.

Crawford has been active on social media, and said she wants the survivors to know: “We love them and we’re behind them no matter what. We have their backs.”

Mary Anne said the community’s response has been atypical, but heartening.

“So often you hear victim blaming, bullying of the victim” Mary Anne said. “It’s been the opposite which makes me really really proud to be from Beloit and and happy go to Memorial, despite the administration’s failings.”