When Don Bell walked into a meeting at Bryant Intermediate School Feb. 11, he expected to meet with a group of parents and teachers concerned with sexual activity at the school.
"Instead, it was one very irate and upset parent who started telling me about his daughter being sexually assaulted," the Salt Lake police sergeant said.Bell stopped the man and told him he thought they needed to conduct an interview with his daughter at the Children's Justice Center. What they were discussing wasn't bad behavior; it was possibly a felony.
After the man left, Bell talked with Bryant School officials who told him they'd conducted an investigation into the alleged incident, which was reported to them at the end of January.
School officials had conducted interviews with the alleged victim, the suspect, the suspect's parents and other students - all without contacting police.
"I informed them that the law was very clear about this," he said. "The minute it is brought to your attention, it must be reported to police. . . . It's one of the only laws on the books that leave nothing to the imagination."
Bell said he's not sure why they didn't report the allegations to police.
Doug Bates, coordinator of school law and legislation for the Utah State Office of Education, confirmed that state law requires any person who suspects a child has been abused or neglected to immediately report the allegations to police or the Division of Child and Family Services.
"To delay for 10 days, that's not reporting immediately," Bates said. "There's nothing in the law that gives you a delay so you can investigate. You're supposed to report the allegations to the police. It's the responsibility of the police or DCFS to investigate, not the school. There's been confusion about this over the years. It's a constant re-education process."
Willful failure to report is a Class B misdemeanor.
Police met with the 13-year-old girl Feb. 13, and she told them a 14-year-old classmate had continuously verbally harassed her about sex since October, a police report states. On Jan. 29, the suspect took the girl into some bushes near the school, asked her to perform a sex act, then forced her to the ground and exposed himself to her.
School authorities talked with Bell about whether the incident might have been consensual, but he told them that is irrelevant.
"Consent has nothing to do with the issue if the person is under the age of 14," he said. In Utah, anyone under the age of 14 can't legally consent to any sexual contact.
During the investigation into the girl's allegations, police discovered four other possible victims and another possible suspect. Bell said he plans to complete this case first, which may go to the District Attorney's Office as early as next Wednesday.
"I'm definitely (asking for) felony charges," he said.
After that he'll look into the other allegations, all made by female students, against this boy and another young boy at the school.
And while he's disturbed that the school didn't call police immediately, he doesn't anticipate school authorities will face any criminal investigation into their actions.
"I think that's better left to those in a position higher than me and a position higher than (school officials) to decide," he said.
Salt Lake City Superintendent Darline Robles said the district is reviewing the incident to determine why Bryant administrators did not immediately notify authorities.
"No one has been put on leave. I'll be talking to the administrators today or Monday and get some more facts together," she said.
Meanwhile, the students involved in the incident remain at Bryant, "to the best of my knowledge," Robles said.
"I know the principal met with every parent, and parents are aware of everything that's gone on," she said.
Robles said the school district regularly trains administrators about their legal reponsibilities and new policies regarding staff and student conduct.
"We're going to revist this again, review board policy and continue to do the training," she said.
Bates said the school does not have to wait until the outcome of the criminal investigation to impose sanctions against the student accused of a crime. After reporting the allegations to the authorities, the school can act administratively.
The alleged conduct could be considered a violation of the district's safe schools policy. Students who violate those rules are subject to various degrees of sanctions, which include expulsion.
In March 1996, the school board adopted a sexual harassment policy that expressly prohibits student-to-student sexual harass-ment.
The policy covers explicit sexual propositions, sexual innuendo, suggestive comments, sexually oriented kidding, teasing and practical jokes, jokes about specific gender traits, foul or obscene language or gestures, display of foul or obscene visual or printed material and physical contact.