East Bay News

Principals placed on leave at troubled school

Monday, December 14, 2009

There is a disturbing case in the East Bay where a 14-year-old boy is accused of raping a girl during school. It happened at Portola Middle School in El Cerrito where another student witnessed the attack in the stairwell and reported it. On Monday night, the school board is demanding answers to the question "How could this happen?"

This is the second rape of a student on a West Contra Costa School campus in less than two months.

School officials tightened up district safety rules after the first rape and male students were asked to respect their female counter parts, but on Monday another safety rule had to be implemented.

"Well, my friends are kind of freaked out about it. They're talking about how their parents want them to stay in at lunch," said Bridget O'Sullivan, a 6th grader.

Now, students at Portola Middle School need an adult escort to go to use the restroom or enter the hallway. It was in a secluded stairwell, during class around 2:30, that a 7th grade girl says she was forcibly raped by an 8th grade boy.

"It has to start from the top. The superintendent has to get the message that we can't continue to let these incidents take place," says Charles Ramsey, a school board member.

Ramsey is calling for more accountability, not only because of this incident, but a recent gang rape on Richmond highs campus as well.

On Monday the superintendent put the school's principal, Denise Van Hook, and assistant principal Matthew Burnham on administrative leave. He wants to know if district wide safety rules were followed.

"Clearly something went wrong or we wouldn't have had students in the hall during the seventh period of the day," says West Contra Costa County superintendent Bruce Harter.

"I hope they're not being blamed for anything because they're really good administrators and we need them back here," said Carol Renee, a Portola Middle School teacher.

Monday night, school and police officials showed up at a safety board committee meeting and an El Cerrito City Council meeting to answer questions. The boy is charged with rape and false imprisonment, but police say he denies the allegations.

"How they ended up down that the stairwell I don't know," said El Cerrito Police Cmdr. Michael Regan. When asked if either one explained why they were there, Regan replied, "No, neither one provided an explanation as to why they were in the stair well at that time."

Teacher Carol Renee believes the case is not as cut and dry as it seems.

"I think the situation is being exploited. I think not everything is going to be as it seems," said Renee.

At the same school a mob of students attacked a teacher last spring. An assigned police officer and parent volunteers were organized to patrol the campus, but now district officials are convinced that more needs to be done.

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el cerrito, crime, east bay news, alan wang
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