Boys Face Expulsion On Sex Charges

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Three junior high boys face long-term suspension or expulsion from Pine-Strawberry Elementary School this week for allegedly sexually assaulting one or more female classmates in a school hallway and on school grounds.

The three boys, who were reported by an outside party, were suspended after school officials learned Feb. 17 of the allegations. The boys will face further punishment Wednesday during individual disciplinary hearings before the school board.

"It took a lot of courage for the girl to speak out and I'm real proud of her for doing that," P-S School Board Member Patty Horton said.

School officials and sheriff's investigators, who are investigating the allegations, are not releasing specific details about the case, including the boys' ages, how many victims may be involved, how many incidents have been documented and the nature of the alleged sexual assaults.

The incidents involved in this case may be quite extensive, Gila County Sheriff's investigator George Ratliff said, and the department plans to file sexual assault charges against the boys when the investigation is complete.

Immediately following the boys' suspensions, school officials organized segregated student workshops to give counselors a chance to clearly define sexual misconduct for the students and answer any questions or concerns students had about the issue. Students had to secure permission from their parents to participate in the workshops.

"From what I understand, it was a real good discussion," Horton said. "It gave us the chance to tell students what is and what isn't acceptable behavior and to answer questions about the incident."

A second workshop was held Monday for the girls at the school.

"We didn't feel things were fully resolved for the girls," P-S Principal Richard Soikkeli said. "We addressed the dynamics of male-female relationships, what the law says and what is and isn't appropriate.

"We wanted to make sure they got everything resolved and this time it went wonderful."

School officials also have made individual counseling available to the students involved in the alleged incidents.

School board members, who are scheduled to discuss the incidents during hearings throughout the day Wednesday, will make their disciplinary decisions in open session, Horton said.

The boys' identities will not be revealed unless their parents choose to hold the hearings in open session, she said.

"The board is primarily concerned that this not be repeated or condoned under any circumstances or in any form," Horton said. "That's why we're dealing with it as quickly and severely as we have, because it is not tolerable behavior.

"But I think the climate at the school is safe and I think the kids are fine.

"I think this was truly an isolated incident, and I'm proud of our staff for dealing with it in a prompt, confidential manner to ensure the stability of the campus."

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