5 Florida high school staffers charged with failure to report teen's sexual assault

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Five employees of the Palm Beach County, Florida, school district were charged with failing to report sexual abuse after they were made aware that a teenager had allegedly assaulted a 15-year-old student.

Palm Beach Central High School Principal Darren Edgecomb, former counselor Priscilla Carter, teacher Scott Houchins and assistant principals Nereyda Cayado De Garcia and Daniel Snider were arrested Monday after an investigation into the aftermath of the 2021 assault, according to Palm Beach County court records.

Although authorities found evidence to corroborate the girl’s account, her parents declined to file charges because they felt a long legal battle would inhibit their daughter’s progress, court documents said. The case was cleared in October 2021.

But the girl’s father later contacted the sheriff’s office because he felt school officials were “criminally negligent” in their mandatory reporting obligations.

According to a redacted affidavit in Houchins' case, a student wrote a letter detailing concern for a friend who had experienced two sexual assaults and whose mental health was suffering as a result. The letter, which included concerns about self-harm, was given to Houchins on June 16, 2021.

Houchins told the sheriff's office that he read the letter and gave it to the school's guidance office, the affidavit read. The 15-year-old girl was then evaluated by a school official, who determined she did not need to be "Baker Acted," which is to be put on an involuntary mental health hold.

The affidavit also said the unnamed school official did not ask the child about her sexual assault during the evaluation. The official spoke to someone else, whose name was redacted, and said the guidance office had received a letter that outlined the student's self-harm and suicidal ideation but made no mention of sexual assault.

According to the court document, the student attempted suicide over the summer of 2021 at a school function in Washington, D.C.

In a separate affidavit filed in Snider's court case, the sheriff's office investigator says Snider was made aware of the assault on Aug. 16, 2021. The girl was then asked to make an official statement to school officials about the assault.

Snider did not report the assault to the Department of Child and Family Services, as is required by state law, the affidavit in his case said.

The affidavit says an unnamed official "conducted his own investigation" and "would not share his findings" at a meeting three days later. That person also said he did not contact law enforcement because "he felt that sexual assault did not occur based on his own investigation."

In that meeting, a person whose name was redacted asked whether they were required to report the assault and wase told the child "should have told her parents and the parents should have reported it to law enforcement," according to the affidavit.

The girl’s parents eventually reported the assault to law enforcement on Aug. 20, 2021, three days after Snider was alerted and months after the girl's friend gave her letter to Houchins.

Probable cause affidavits were not immediately available in the court records for Edgecomb, Cayado De Garcia or Carter.

The Florida Department of Child and Family Services noted that Florida law names specific occupations as mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect, including school teachers, counselors and other personnel. There are multiple ways to contact the department through its abuse hotline.

"The Abuse Hotline Counselor will determine if the information provided meets legal requirements to accept a report for investigation," the department said in a statement Tuesday.

County inmate records show all five of the current and former school personnel were released on bond Tuesday. None of them immediately responded to requests for comment sent to their county email addresses.

Angela Cruz Ledford, a spokesperson for the school district, said the employees were moved into positions that do not have student contact.

"The allegations involving students occurred off of school property and over a weekend," Ledford said. "However, no matter when or where any alleged assault against a student occurs, our policy aligns with the law, which requires all personnel to report suspected abuse.”

The district declined to comment on the arrests, citing an open investigation.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. The hotline, run by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), can put you in contact with your local rape crisis center. You can also access RAINN’s online chat service at https://www.rainn.org/get-help.