By: Sloan Rachmuth
SUMMARY: Yesterday we reported a six-year-old boy brought his iPad to his first-grade class for "Personal Technology Day" at an elementary school in the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, last month. As the boy sat at his desk, he chuckled watching an old video he made of himself going "potty" at home. As students walked by, they caught a glimpse of the video and told the teacher what they saw.
17 days later, Torrence Creek Elementary’s Assistant Principal called 911 to falsely report the child for making a pornographic video and showing it to other students and claimed the First Grader was a repeat sex offender.
The parents vow to sue the school.
Here is Part two of that story:
Greg Pearce's six-year-old special needs son was initially accused of distributing pornography after children saw a video the child made while on the potty at home. Pearce was later assured by school officials at Torrence Creek Elementary, located in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, that his son was not in serious trouble. Sharon Toguchi, the school's assistant principal, summarized the school's final outcome statement in an email:
Torrence Creek is choosing misuse of technology as the violation because of Hudson's age and the fact that we know that there was no sexual intent behind him showing his friends the video.
As we discussed, the supportive measures (class change and ongoing monitoring) are what the other parents agreed to, in lieu of doing a formal investigation, or bringing any charges against Hudson, etc. because they too understand that this is the case of something a 6-year-old did.
Pearce's problems didn't end with that email. They were just getting started.
“When the Principal called me last Friday, I was expecting he would be discussing my son’s outcome statement,” Pearce said. “But when he said that my son had touched a boy's privates and that they were required to report all incidents of sexual harassment as a Title IX violation, I was stunned.”
Title IX violations are unwelcome conduct that a ”reasonable person” would consider “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a student equal access” to an education.
According to the official complaint, the boy touched a boy's privates while watching a Go Noodle video. The father was told that his son got up while the class was sitting in a circle watching the video, walked over to another boy, and grabbed his genitals.
In spite of being questioned by multiple school officials alone for over an hour, the first-grader vehemently denied the allegation. Further troubling, the child told his parents that the school principal coerced him to admit that he touched another student. Principal Bissenger denied coaxing the First grader, but he admitted, on tape, that he was experienced at manipulating students in interviews: “I know how easy it is to get something out of students . . . if I want to get something, I know how to do that.”
No adult witnessed the incident, and a key discrepancy exists in the school's complaint.
Go Noodle’s videos are used as active brain breaks, most involve dancing, and virtually all of the videos are done in a standing position according to the company’s website. Pearce's son recalled that the class was dancing to “The Doughnut Song,” not sitting in a circle, during the time he was pulled out of class and taken to the principal's office.
Principal Bissenger admitted during a recorded conversation with the boy's parents that he had no history of behavioral issues or disciplinary issues at school and that he was a good student.
But the child received another 1-day suspension for the second alleged incident.
“His mother and I have naturally told our son about what's appropriate behavior, what isn't,” Pearce said. “It's nerve-racking to send my son into a school where he could be framed for committing offense after offense without me being there during his questioning.”
“I also fear that my son is in physical danger at Torrence Creek because the school never informed me that my son was basically assaulted and badly hurt a day before the first incident happened,” the father continued.
Pearce’s fear is well-founded. In the meeting with the Pearce family, the Principal was recorded as saying that repeatedly (and violently) pushing a child face-first to the ground was not comparable to touching "privates," even though both offenses involve touching another student. “Out on the playground, things look different from the setting from inside the classroom,” Principal Bessinger said, and the mere allegation of touching privates “was crossing the line and not appropriate.”
However, the Principal assured the Pearces that this incident, just like the last, was not serious and the suspension would be lifted after another day.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction defines sexual assault for the purposes of school discipline reporting this way:
A person is guilty of sexual battery if he/she, for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, engages in sexual contact with another person by force and against the will of the other person, or if the person being assaulted is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless and the person performing the act knows or should reasonably know that the other person is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless.
What are the chances that a 6-year-old child with a record of good behavior willfully grabs another child's genitals for sexual gratification and then lies to his parents and school officials about it for hours?
Frustrated after being told his son was a two-time sex offender, Greg Pearce wrote this in an email:
(My son) will not be attending school until after this matter is resolved. I expect his work to be sent home for him to complete. I will be staying home with him until this situation is resolved, and will make sure his assignments are completed and turned in.
Additionally I will be filing a lawsuit against CMS for your harassment, negligence, and wrongful accusations against my son, as well as several other violations of his rights.
A second lawsuit will also be filed against CMS regarding the events that took place on May 4th when my son was assaulted and injured by another classmate not once, but 3 times. . there is no excuse for you to be that negligent to not notify me of an assault or injury on my son. Had there been adequate and competent staff outside, this may not have happened.
The morning after receiving that email, Assistant Principal Sharon Toguchi called 911 and reported the first-grader for making a pornographic video and showing it to other students, calling the child a repeat "offender" according to an official police report. Toguchi or another school official also contacted child protective services to file a report.
When Greg Pearce spoke with the investigator with the Huntersville Police Department assigned to the case, she seemed appalled that the school questioned the child alone, and then waited seventeen days after the alleged event had occurred before reporting it as a crime. Listening to the audio of Principal Bissenger claiming that actual playground assaults are treated differently from alleged classroom assaults with no witnesses also troubled her.
Following a review of the case documents, she dismissed the case and told Pearce that the school's behavior was "not right." After Pearce suggested that school officials were retaliating against his family for retaining a lawyer, the officer agreed.