When the principal of Brookshire Elementary in Winter Park called Dolly Boyce at work on a Monday afternoon in October, Boyce's first thought was that her 4-year-old son must have beat up a kid at school. "She told me I needed to come down there to discuss my son," says the 32-year-old mother, who runs a flag store on East Colonial Drive. "I thought he must have hurt somebody because he's a rough child. He doesn't take crap from anyone."
Boyce found out the opposite was true; her son was the one victimized. An 11-year-old boy had exposed himself to her son as the two were riding home on a school bus. If that news wasn't alarming enough, Boyce also discovered that school officials waited almost two full school days before telling her what happened.
The bus driver, Josue Mora, witnessed the incident on the Friday before Boyce was notified. "I found an 11-year-old with his pants off and with his little penis out asking a 4-year-old to suck it and touch it," Mora wrote in a report.
The delayed notification was one thing. What happened next made Boyce even angrier.
The next morning, a Department of Children & Families social worker, providing follow-up on the case, interviewed Boyce at her flag store. As Boyce answered questions, she leaned over to read the DCF worker's report, upside down. She thought there had been a mistake because the report said the DCF wasn't investigating an exposure complaint; it was looking into a rape charge. The agency was told that the 11-year-old boy (whom we will call Michael) had forced Boyce's son (whom we'll call Chris) to perform oral sex twice.
According to the DCF report, Michael's case was open-and-shut. He told Orlando police detective Jennifer Williamson he had sexual contact with Chris when interviewed at his home about a week after he was caught on the bus. "[Michael] admitted to law enforcement that he did have [Chris] perform oral sex on him," the DCF report states.
Chris also verified that the incident occurred. "[Chris] did clearly state that [Michael] had [Chris'] mouth on his noodle (penis) while they were riding the school bus," the DCF report states. Michael tried to pass the blame back to Chris, saying the 4-year-old asked to perform oral sex.
But Chris has a speech impediment caused by an early childhood case of meningitis. That's the reason he attends special speech classes at Brookshire, instead of regular pre-school in College Park, where Boyce lives. "[Chris] is language disabled and would not have been able to vocalize such a request," the DCF report concludes.
The Orange County prosecutor's office charged Michael with one felony count of lewd and lascivious conduct, and two felony counts of sexual battery. Michael pled not guilty and his attorney, Timothy Berry, advised him to stop talking to police. If convicted, he faces up to three years in a Department of Juvenile Justice residential or correctional facility, where he would be taught regular school courses in addition to receiving sex-offender counseling.
The DCF report, per agency policy, did not say who first tipped off social workers that there was more to the case than exposure of genitals. But it did say that the call was made the same Monday afternoon Boyce was notified. That fact leads Boyce to believe that Brookshire Elementary principal Suzanne Ackley must have known about the rape allegation and called DCF since she interviewed Michael at school. (Ackley did not return phone calls for this story.)
Boyce wants to know why she didn't get the same story as DCF agents. "I think it's outrageous that someone didn't feel morally obligated to tell me," Boyce says. The delay could have affected Chris's health by delaying a trip to the doctor, she adds. "When a woman is raped, doctors tell her not to shower and to save her underwear."
Boyce says school officials seemed more willing to defend Michael and his family than to communicate with her. She learned that Michael was suspended for two days and provided transportation on an alternative bus route instead of being expelled or moved to an alternative school. "My main concern is why this kid is still in school," Boyce says. Florida law allows schools to suspend students charged with a felony until the child's guilt is determined, even if the crime is not school-related.
Boyce contacted Jonathan McIntire, who heads one of the district's exceptional-education programs. McIntire told her she was "overreacting to a minor incident," she says, and that Michael is "a child who made a mistake.'" (McIntire failed to return phone calls seeking comment.)
Michael might have made a mistake, but it's one the school district should probably pay attention to. "Although the research on pedophiles has not presented us with any uniform description, there is reason to believe that the makings of a pedophile begin when children are as young as 10," says Charol Shakeshaft, a Hofstra University researcher who authored the 2001 book "Sexual Violence in Schools." "Without intervention, sexual abuse and harassing behavior of younger children can become sexually addicting behavior that causes a fixation upon children for sexual pleasure. So for these reasons as well as the safety of students on playgrounds today, we need to take seriously any sexually abusing situation from children to children."
School-board attorney Frank Kruppenbacher says the school district is taking Michael's case as seriously as possible. He says administrators cannot remove Michael from the regular student population due to federal restrictions.
According to the DCF report, Michael, like Chris, is an exceptional-education student, though he does not attend the same classes as Chris. Kruppenbacher says federal law prohibits exceptional students from being suspended for more than 10 days of a school year, even if they commit a crime. He added that school children in Michael's situation "are never left alone. They are always escorted, even to the bathroom. They never get to be unattended." Such students will be escorted around campus until they leave the Orange County school system. "As long as we have to," Kruppenbacher says. "All the way up through high school until they leave the system. That is the burden we have."
Child-care experts say the kind of ultrasexual behavior that Michael displayed normally starts from home. "Supervision and parental help in understanding what is acceptable are essential," says Tina B. Tessina, a psychotherapist and author of 11 self-help books. "If this is not in place, children will react badly."
But according to the DCF report, Michael's parents, sisters and teacher have never seen him act up. "They stated they have not ever seen him be inappropriate around other children," the report says. "He really kind of keeps to himself and has all of his friends at school."
The report also said Michael told the Orlando police officer he saw a couple of boys performing oral sex in a bathroom at Blankner Elementary, the school Michael attended before transferring to Brookshire. Could it be that sexual activity among school children is on the rise in Orange County?
Kruppenbacher, the school district's attorney, says no. "We do not have any increase of abuse cases of any kind," he says. "I think that's due to the fact that students are much more quick to talk about issues. Things don't go on unattended."
Shakeshaft, the Hofstra researcher, says tracking sexual-incident trends among school children is almost impossible. "We don't know if school-yard sexual contact is increasing because we don't have any good studies over time," she says. "We do know that reports are up, but we don't know if that means an increase or just more awareness."
A teacher who has worked for the Orange County school district for 10 years, who asked not to be identified, said she has seen no increase in such incidents during her tenure. "I don't think there's a story there," she says. "I think it happens more in mainstream society than on school campuses. School children are pretty well supervised."
That might be. But Boyce, for one, would like school officials to be more honest when it does happen. "I think my whole situation has been treated like shit by the school board," she says.