As I’ve written on this blog, Florida Department of Education is clear that sex offenses should be reported to the agency and law enforcement. We have suspected that the Escambia Public School District, since Malcolm Thomas has taken over, has under-reported crime incidents on its campuses—both to FDOE and law enforcement.
We now have proof that our suspicions are correct—thanks to public record requests of the District, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and FDOE.
Warrington Middle School is Superintendent Malcolm Thomas’ “turnaround school.” In 2009, he removed the principal and her staff, but allowed the teachers to reapply for their jobs. Thomas said that he would personally oversee the WMS turnaround by having the school administration report directly to him rather than district staff.
For the 2009-10 school year, WMS reported to the FDOE no incidents of sexual battery and no sex offenses. As I reported earlier, FDOE defines a sex offense as “Other sexual contact, including intercourse, without force or threat of force. 2) Subjecting an individual to lewd sexual gestures, comments, sexual activity, or exposing private body parts in a lewd manner.
Examples: Student or other participating in sexual activity in front of another student. Student or other intentionally exposing genitals. Two students engaging in sexual activity in janitor’s closet. Student or other soliciting or encouraging a person to commit a sexual act.”
WMS had a sex offense in October 2009 that involved several students. It was reported to ECSO. The incident was captured on video. The District was aware of it and had Investigator John Dobbs interview the teachers that should have been chaperoning the students.
However, WMS did not report the sex offense to FDOE.
Here is what our public record requests revealed about the incident. This narrative is based on the offense report filed by School Resource Officer Bobby Small (who later transferred to Tate High), statements from the teachers and bus driver, and the investigative report and interview notes of Dobbs.
BECKY BUS RIDE
On Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009, WMS boys’ basketball team played a game at Ransom Middle School. Team members and band members rode the bus together to and from the game. Other than the bus driver, Hannah White, no adults chaperoned the students on the return trip and the kids got out of hand. How badly was not fully discovered until the next day when the video from the cameras on the bus was viewed.
School Resource Officer Bobby Small filed the next afternoon an offense report on the incident after being contacted by WMS Assistant Principal Wilson Taylor. According to Small’s offense report, the song “Becky” was being played on cell phones by different students on the bus after it left Ransom. The song is about oral sex. While the song was being played a female student stood up and stated “Who wants Becky.” At that point, a male student moved from where he was sitting to a position beside her. She told him that if he would suck her breast she would give him oral sex.
When school officials investigated the incident, several students who were on the bus said that the pair engaged in mutual oral sex on the bus. White told school officials that during the ride back to Warrington, she could see the female student pulling her shirt down partially exposing her breast several times, but could not see anything else that was happening and was not aware of what was happening.
The incident was recorded by security cameras which were located at the front and rear of the school bus. According to Small, the District had possession of the video. School officials advised that disciplinary action would be handled by the school district. The parents of all the students involved were contacted by school officials. There were no charges filed.
John Doss, Director of Transportation, reviewed the video from the cameras on the bus and sent an email with a timeline of what was captured to Shawn Dennis, Assistant Superintendent of Operations. Doss noted in his report that “students were sneaking back and forth when the bus particularly dark and staying below the seats” hiding themselves from the camera. The video shows at least three boys making visits to where a female student sat. The boys covered their faces with their shirts as they moved back and forth to her seat. One boy was seen pulling up his pants as he left her seat.
When the bus pulls onto the WMS campus, about 25 minutes after it left Ransom, the girl appears to be pulling her shirt on. According to Doss, she had been out of view of the cameras for about eight minutes.
Dennis forwarded this information to Dobbs. On Dec. 9, 2009, Principal Rush wrote letters, addressed “To Whom It May Concern” vouching for both Curtis Farmer, the basketball coach, and Charles Rogers, the band director. Two months later, the teachers were informed by the District that they may face disciplinary action.
On Feb. 10, 2010, Dobbs interviewed the teachers.
The bus was used by the basketball team and the band. Coach Curtis Farmer rode the bus to Ransom but missed the bus on the return trip. He told the District Investigator that he was talking with someone when the bus left. “As the bus pulled off, I tried to catch it.” He rode with his wife back to WMS.
The band director, Charles Rogers, took seven students, who couldn’t fit on the bus, in his Honda Pilot to Ransom and drove his vehicle back to the school after the game. The reason he had taken his vehicle to the game was because Farmer wouldn’t allow his players to sit three to a seat, because “we are paying for the bus.”
While Rogers was unloading instruments at WMS, a student told him that there had been trouble on the bus. When he went to bus ramp, several parents told him that there had been a problem on the bus and that they believed there had been no adult chaperone on the bus.
Farmer implied that Rogers should have been the chaperone on the bus “because they (band members) took up two-thirds of the bus seats.”
According to the bus driver, Hannah White, who was interviewed a month later by Dobbs, Coach Farmer wasn’t happy about riding the bus and he told her husband that he didn’t want to ride the bus if the band director didn’t ride it, too. White, who had driven a school bus for seven years, didn’t realize that there wasn’t another adult on the bus until it was well underway. From her rearview mirror, she observed one female student engaged in what appeared to be sexual acts with several male students. A number of the students were using their cell phones either to photograph the incident or offer some illumination.
White said that at WMS, “All the kids were telling on each other.” Everyone was blaming everything on one particular female student.
The next morning White took a disc created from the video tape to Principal Rush and watched it with her. Rush admonished her for leaving Ransom without a teacher on bus and for not stopping the bus to correct the misconduct.
White told Dobbs she was upset about the sexual misconduct and hadn’t slept well since the night of the incident.
From the public record request, we also got Dobbs’s notes from an interview conducted on March 3, 2009. The names have been redacted, but the interviewee is telling Dobbs that three girls were taking their clothes off. “They put it on their cell phones.”
I placed a call into Alan Scott, HR Director, about what actions were taken against the teachers based on Dobbs’ investigation. He did not return my call. I do know that Farmer and Rogers were back at school this year, although Rogers recently was granted a leave of absence.
What happened on the bus qualifies as a “sex offense” under the FDOE guidelines. Superintendent Thomas and the District office were aware of what happened. Why was this incident not reported to the state?