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'Grave alarm:' U.S. Sen. Rick Scott wants arrested Palm Beach Central High School staffers fired

Senator sends letter to Superintendent Mike Burke, urging him to 'do the right thing'
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Posted at 11:55 AM, Aug 02, 2023

WELLINGTON, Fla. — U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, is demanding that Palm Beach County Superintendent Mike Burke fire five Palm Beach Central High School employees who authorities said failed to report the suspected sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl.

In a letter addressed to Burke on Tuesday, Scott expressed his "grave alarm" at the allegations, saying it's "particularly alarming" that the suspects, including the principal and two assistant principals, remain employed by the School District of Palm Beach County.

"These five criminal defendants not only failed to fulfill one of the most fundamental duties of their jobs as educators and administrators, but they failed this child, a victim, as they shielded those accused of sexual assault from accountability," Scott wrote in his letter. "And as U.S. Senator, I am concerned that the alleged misconduct by these individuals could be a violation of federal education laws, such as Title IX."

Principal Darren Edgecomb, 58, assistant principal Nereyda Cayado De Garcia, 57, assistant principal Daniel Snider, 49, teacher Scott Houchins, 53, and school behavioral therapist Priscilla Carter, 55, were arrested on July 24 on charges of failure to report sexual abuse.

Palm Beach Central High School staffers Darren Edgecomb, Daniel Snider, Nereyda Cayado De Garcia, Scott Houchins, and Priscilla Carter appear before a Palm Beach County judge on July 25, 2023.PNG
Palm Beach Central High School staff members Darren Edgecomb, Daniel Snider, Nereyda Cayado De Garcia, Scott Houchins, and Priscilla Carter appear before a Palm Beach County judge on July 25, 2023.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said all five employees were alerted, in some form, about allegations that a 15-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a 15-year-old boy off-campus on April 2, 2021.

Yet none of the staff members, the sheriff's office said, reported the incident to law enforcement or the Florida Department of Children and Families, which was required by state law.

According to the sheriff's office investigation, the suspects were considered mandatory reporters under state law, meaning they had an obligation to report suspicions of child abuse, neglect, and abandonment, including sexual abuse.

"If the reports prove true, these individuals repeatedly failed the child for nearly two years as they did nothing to report the alleged sexual assault while the traumatized girl apparently engaged in known acts of self-harm," Scott wrote in his letter to Burke.

The school district said the five employees have been reassigned to positions that don't have student contact.

In an interview with WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind on Tuesday, Burke said that while he can't comment on the ongoing criminal investigation, he wants the Palm Beach Central High School community to feel secure about the upcoming academic year.

"I'll just say that the safety and well-being of our students is the highest priority. It's first and foremost. So we're working through that," Burke said.

WATCH: Superintendent talks aftermath of Palm Beach Central arrests

District 'committed' to having Palm Beach Central 'ready to go' following arrests, superintendent says

CONTINUING COVERAGE:

In his letter to Burke, Scott said the five educators "do not deserve to remain employed by the school district they so clearly failed by refusing to protect the child from being re-victimized by their negligent decisions not to report the claims they received two years ago."

"The most obvious question is: why should they be permitted to remain employed by your school district?" Scott wrote. "Do you agree they should continue to be paid with taxpayer money after failing to fulfill the basic functions of their positions as caretakers for our children?"

Here is the full copy of Scott's letter to Burke:

Dear Superintendent Burke:

I write with grave alarm following recent reports of five administrators and educators within your school district who have been charged with felonies for failing to report an alleged sexual assault in 2021 of a 15-year-old student under their care. If the reports prove true, these individuals repeatedly failed the child for nearly two years as they did nothing to report the alleged sexual assault while the traumatized girl apparently engaged in known acts of self-harm.

What I find particularly alarming is that these five individuals, who now rightly face criminal prosecution for their misconduct, remain employed by the Palm Beach County School District. These five criminal defendants not only failed to fulfill one of the most fundamental duties of their jobs as educators and administrators, but they failed this child, a victim, as they shielded those accused of sexual assault from accountability. And as U.S. Senator, I am concerned that the alleged misconduct by these individuals could be a violation of federal education laws, such as Title IX.

The most obvious question is: why should they be permitted to remain employed by your school district? Do you agree they should continue to be paid with taxpayer money after failing to fulfill the basic functions of their positions as caretakers for our children?

While the criminal defendants await a felony trial to be decided by a jury of their peers, these individuals do not deserve to remain employed by the school district they so clearly failed by refusing to protect the child from being re-victimized by their negligent decisions not to report the claims they received two years ago. I would hope that the American Federation of Teachers would agree.

I urge you to do the right thing.

Sincerely,
Rick Scott
United States Senator

Angela Cruz Ledford, the spokesperson for the School District of Palm Beach County, released the following statement to WPTV about Scott's letter to Burke:

"The safety and wellbeing of our students is our highest priority. The District immediately reassigned the five employees in question to positions with no student contact and the school is now under new leadership. We are fully cooperating with local authorities and will not be commenting on an ongoing investigation.

Due process is required by law and we must ensure that it is respected for all parties involved. Rest assured that disciplinary actions will be taken if supported by the outcome of the investigation, criminal proceedings, and any action by the state of Florida's Educational Practices Commission."

Reggie Myers, the retired former principal of Park Vista Community High School, has been tapped to serve as interim principal of Palm Beach Central.

At a special meeting on Wednesday, the Palm Beach County School Board officially approved Myers' appointment to that position, just in time for the start of the new school year on Aug. 10.

"He is well qualified. He had a distinguished career, most recently at Park Vista High School," Burke said Tuesday. "So he knows what it takes to run a large, successful high school. So I'm excited about that appointment. I know he'll do what's needed to make sure the school is ready to go, and we'll be lending support from the district office as needed."