Inside Tate Assault: Did officials break the law?

The moment the school officials were notified by a parent that a possible sexual assault, involving a 14-year-old victim, happened in a classroom at Tate High School, there were required by law to report the incident to Florida Dept. of Children and Families and law enforcement.

Florida Statute, 39.201 requires that professional persons, who include all school personnel, including in performance of their duties those personnel under contract, report any suspected child abuse to the Department of Children and Families.

The classroom teacher did the right thing after she talked with the mother of a witness to the assault– she immediately notified the assistant principal. Instead of making calls to DCF and turning the investigation over to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, school officials did their own investigation and possibly tainted the ability to find the truth.

Many Florida School District have very specific polices about this: “Under no circumstances should a school official have taken it upon him or herself to interview the child, talk with the suspected abuser, discuss the allegations with other potential witnesses or otherwise investigate the case.” –Leon County School District

How is “child abuse” defined? Any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual injury or harm that causes or is likely to cause the child’s physical, mental or emotional health to be significantly impaired.

The girl is 14 years old. She is a minor. The age of sexual consent in Florida is 18 .

Statute 800.04 is clear. Lewd or lascivious battery occurs when a person engages in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age. Neither the victim’s lack of chastity nor the victim’s consent is a defense to the crime.

The school and the district failed to follow the law.