HAVERHILL — The state’s Department of Children and Families investigated a complaint about a Hunking School student being sexually harassed after a School Committee member reported the incident, saying school officials refused to act.
Parent Gina Trombly told the School Committee when it met Sept. 23 that her daughter and several other sixth-graders at the Hunking were the victims of “egregious, lewd and lascivious behavior” on the part of a male sixth grader.
She said that after her daughter told her what had happened in school on Sept. 1 she notified members of the School Committee via email and one member reported the incident to DCF.
“My daughter was talking to her best friend at recess when she was approached by a boy she doesn’t even know,” Trombly told the committee last week. “He approached her with a hot dog in his hand, rubbing and swinging against his groin. He then shoved the hot dog into her face against her nose saying you want to suck it, I know you want to suck it.”
She said other boys in the crowd were cheering the boy on and that he then asked her daughter for her phone number because “we need to hook up” and “I need a girlfriend.”
Trombly said her daughter reported what had happened to a recess monitor, who told the boy not to do it again.
She said the boy did the same thing to her daughter’s friend, repeating the same comments, then did it to other girls.
“The monitor told her there was nothing else she could do,” Trombly said.
School Committee member Toni Sapienza-Donais said that after receiving Trombly’s email, she contacted School Superintendent Margaret Marotta to say the situation needed to be reported to DCF.
“She told me she didn’t think it needed to be reported as school counselors were working on the problem,” Sapienza-Donais said. “I told her it definitely needed to be reported and that I’m a mandated reporter.”
Andrea Grossman, spokesperson for DCF, said her department received a report and investigated, but that details and results of DCF investigations are, by law, confidential.
When asked why she or a Hunking staff member did not report the incident to DCF, Marotta said student confidentiality laws prevent her from commenting on individual student situations but that Haverhill Public Schools condemn and will not tolerate any form of sexual harassment.
“There are strict protocols in place for reporting, investigating, and supporting our staff and students,” Marotta said.
“When the District receives this type of information, we coordinate our efforts with law enforcement, and also follow protocol outlined in Title IX law,” Marotta added. “All District employees are also required to complete Title IX training annually.”
Trombly told the committee the boy continues to harass her daughter by following her around but that nothing is being done to stop it.
“When is enough enough?” she told the School Committee. “Not only is my child afraid of what he (the boy) may do next, she’s afraid of the repercussions she might endure from a teacher.”
Trombly said school administrators must be held accountable for “setting a climate where sexual harassment is allowed to continue.”
Trombly said she’d heard the only punishment for the boy was detentions for lunch and recess.
Marotta called the incident “unacceptable and completely inappropriate behavior” and said there were additional consequences (for the boy).
School Committee Vice Chair Scott Wood Jr. said the situation was not handled properly by staff at the Hunking, which is led by Principal Theresa Kirk, formerly the principal at St. Mary of the Assumption School in Brookline.
“There seem to be numerous instances where the proper protocols were not followed,” Wood said. “Either nobody knows what those protocols are or they just don’t follow them.”
Wood asked Marotta to review the incident “from the top down” to ensure breakdowns in reporting and responding don’t happen again.
“It is very disappointing to say the least of the response from Hunking School,” Wood said.