Nearly a month after several Georgetown ISD students participated in the violent sexual assault of a classmate off campus, parents of children in the district are protesting that neither the administration nor local law enforcement has done enough to protect their kids or hold anyone accountable for the crime.
On April 7, about two weeks after the March 26 incident, the Georgetown Police Department arrested two students in connection with the assault, which is still under active investigation. Parents say the administration and police should have acted sooner, and worry that other students accused of participating in the assault who are still on campus pose a danger to their kids. The victim of the assault was hospitalized, and parents organized a GoFundMe to raise money for the family's medical expenses.
At the center of the calls for action are copious reports of a video depicting the sexual assault that was reportedly spread via Snapchat. According to parents whose children saw the video, several GISD students (besides the two arrested) are identifiable in the video.
During a GISD Board of Trustees meeting on April 19, those parents asked the board why administrators weren't adhering to their own Code of Conduct by launching an investigation and removing the accused students from class in the interim. "Some of us in this room need a refresher course on the steps we need to take to keep students in our community safe," said Tiffany Pressler, the mother of a GISD middle schooler who saw the video. "We have perpetrators of this crime still sitting next to our children, my child, at Benold Middle School long after the administration has been made well aware of the evidence that exists to support the removal."
The district's first official acknowledgment of the incident came on Friday, April 1, in the form of an email to parents. "It's been reported to the Georgetown Police Department that an off-campus incident occurred last weekend that involved several students from our campus," wrote Brandon Jayroe, principal at Benold, who said administration was cooperating with the police investigation. "Please know that we take very seriously any concerns regarding the safety and well-being of our students both on and off campus." The district did not respond to additional requests for comment from the Chronicle.
The comments at the board meeting were the culmination of a weeks-long effort from parents to persuade administrators to remove accused students from GISD classrooms. Throughout the week of April 4, student and parent protesters carried signs outside Benold that read: "GISD [Superintendent] Fred Brent your silence is deafening"; "U can delete the video but U can't erase the memories"; and "Remove the Rapists." On Friday, April 8, several dozen students at both Benold and nearby Georgetown High School organized a walkout, and some parents kept their kids home the following Monday, April 11, in protest of the district's inaction. One of the protesters, Georgetown High student Royanne Kelly, who graduated from Benold last year, said at the April 19 board meeting that inaction and lack of communication from the administration makes her afraid to attend class.
LaRessa Neuman, who organized many of the protests, is the parent of a child who attends Benold and has coordinated with other concerned parents. She said it's "common knowledge" that seven GISD students were present in the off-campus residence when the sexual assault occurred on March 26. She characterized the concerns of parents in GISD as worries over the safety of their kids in classes with peers who may have been involved in the incident. "If they did this to their friend, what makes anybody else think they can't do it again?" she said.
According to the GISD Student Code of Conduct, there are grounds for a student's immediate emergency removal from campus if they are "the alleged perpetrator of sex-based discrimination, sexual harassment, or retaliation." The Code of Conduct states the removal would occur after the district conducts an "individualized analysis" and concludes the removal necessary to protect other students from harm. Such language in a Code of Conduct is mandated under Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code.
Since knowledge of the sexual assault began circulating in the last days of March with the video, GPD has provided limited information other than confirming that an incident occurred off campus and involved several minors. On April 19, Captain Roland Waits, a spokesperson for Georgetown PD, declined to answer what those two minors had been charged with. "Due to the fact that everyone involved in the incident are juveniles, the Georgetown Police Department is prohibited by law from sharing any details or updates on the case." A statement on the department's Facebook page said detectives have not found evidence of the Snapchat video, "despite a significant amount of commentary on its existence," and also added that there has been "a great deal of misinformation" spreading on social media. Waits declined to answer if the department has gotten a warrant to obtain the video from the social media company. He deferred to the previous statement, which asked anyone with knowledge of the video's whereabouts to report the information to Detective Ruben Vasquez.
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