Pensacola, Florida
Thursday October 30th 2014

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Tarnished Turnaround

The Florida School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) system summarizes the total number of crime and violence incidents by school within each school district. Its purpose is to provide a detailed picture of the prevalence of crime and violence incidents within schools, districts and statewide. The incidents include battery, sexual harassment, drug possession, disruptions on campus, weapon possession and other offenses.

According to Deputy Superintendent Norm Ross, when a student is given a referral for a disciplinary problem, the incident is recorded on the Student Discipline Report form. If it meets the SESIR guidelines, the incident is entered into the FDOE database by the school.

FDOE doesn’t require fighting, harassment, bullying or tobacco use to be reported to law enforcement, but all other incidents are expected to include consultation with law enforcement. Reported to law enforcement means “An incident should be coded as reported to Law Enforcement if an official action was taken by a School Resource Officer (SRO) or local Law Enforcement Officer, such as a case number was assigned, a report was filed, an affidavit was filed, an investigation was conducted and found to be an incident reportable to SESIR, or an arrest was made.”

The SESIR information is compiled by FDOE. Through a public record request, the IN received a spreadsheet that summarized the crime and violence incidents for every school and district in the state. Escambia County lagged behind the rest of the state in reporting its crime incidents to law enforcement.

For 2009-10, Florida schools had 36,506 SESIR incidents that required law enforcement, of which 30,749 were reported to law enforcement—84 percent, or about four out of every five incidents. Escambia County reported 607 such incidents, but less than two out of five was reported to law enforcement (See Table 1).

WMS is below even the district percentage. It entered 41 incidents into the SESIR system and 36 qualified for law enforcement consultation. Only one incident, a weapon possession, was reported to law enforcement, less than 3 percent.

The IN made a public record request of the Sheriff’s Office of all reports filed by the SROs and other deputies at the school. The ECSO records documented 67 incidents on the campus for the same period (See Table 2).

Superintendent Thomas said that he can’t explain the difference in percent of incidents reported to law enforcement by his district compared to the rest of the state. But he said, “I have no indication we’re underreporting.”

Thomas said training on the reporting requirements was recently done with deans and staff and he believes they are doing it correctly. “We’re constantly training deans on the reports and what to report.”

BECKY BUS RIDE

In the course of this investigation, the IN discovered one major sex offense at WMS that did get reported to law enforcement, but was inexplicably not reported to FDOE.

FDOE divides sex incidents into two categories: sexual battery and sex offenses. “Sexual battery” is defined as a forced or attempted sex act. Sex offenses are other sexual contact, including intercourse, without force or threat of force, or the acts that subject an individual to lewd sexual gestures, comments, sexual activity or exposing private body parts in a lewd manner. Examples of sex offenses are a student participating in sexual activity in front of another student or a student 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 officials were aware of it and had Dobbs interview the teachers that were chaperoning the students. However, WMS did not report the sex offense to FDOE.

On Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009, the 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.

According to School Resource Officer Bobby 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.

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 said she wasn’t aware of what was happening.

“They put it on their cell phones.”

The incident was recorded by security cameras located at the front and rear of the 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 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 was 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 pulled onto the WMS campus, about 25 minutes after it left Ransom, the girl appeared 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. In February 2010, the teachers were informed by the District that they may face disciplinary action.

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 the 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.

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.

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