WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Several high-ranking school officials at Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington, including the principal, are under arrest after the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said they failed to report the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl to law enforcement and the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Principal Darren Edgecomb, 58, along with 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 Monday on charges of failure to report sexual abuse.
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According to a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office arrest report, on Aug. 20, 2021, the parents of a 15-year-old Palm Beach Central High School student reported that she was sexually assaulted months earlier on April 2, 2021.
The report stated that while evidence in the case "corroborated the allegations" against the suspect, a 15-year-old boy, the girl's parents decided not to pursue criminal charges "because they did not want the matter prolonged in the legal system, which could have potentially inhibited the therapeutic process [the victim] was making with her emotional health and well-being."
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The lewd and lascivious molestation case was officially closed on Oct. 18, 2021.
The girl's father, however, later contacted a Palm Beach County detective and said he wanted to generate a new criminal case because he believed multiple staff members at Palm Beach Central High School were "criminally negligent" and did not properly report the incident to authorities.
According to the arrest report, a sheriff's office investigation revealed that a friend of the 15-year-old girl wrote a letter and gave it to Houchins on June 16, 2021, saying the girl was sexually assaulted and suicidal, and that "many anxiety and panic attacks were caused by this leading to self-harm."
The girl's friend asked Houchins "to ensure it was given to the appropriate person."
The arrest report stated Houchins said "he gave the letter to someone in the guidance office, but couldn't remember who."
That same day, Carter called the 15-year-old girl to the office, where she was evaluated. It was "determined that she was not a risk to herself and did not need to be Baker Acted," the report said.
Carter did not ask the girl about the alleged sexual assault, only about her suicidal thoughts.
Carter called another school official — whose name was redacted in the arrest report — later on June 16, saying a letter was left in a school counselor's mailbox that outlined the 15-year-old girl's "thoughts of suicide and cutting."
"She did not say anything about the sexual assault mentioned in the letter," the report said.
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According to the report, the 15-year-old girl was called to the main office at Palm Beach Central High School to provide an official statement to Cayado De Garcia, the school's assistant principal.
"In her statement, she explains her assault," the report said.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office investigation found that "Assistant Principal Cayado De Garcia did not report the sexual assault" to law enforcement or the Florida Department of Children and Families.
In a meeting on Aug. 19, 2021, Edgecomb said "he did not contact law enforcement, nor DCF, regarding the assault because he felt that a sexual assault did not occur, based on his investigation."
According to the arrest report, the five people arrested in the case were mandated reporters, but "failed to notify DCF of the matter."
In court Tuesday, a judge set Edgecomb and Carter's bond at $10,000, and bond for Cayado De Garcia, Snider and Houchins at $3,000.
All of the suspects posted bail and were released from jail Tuesday.
Carla Donaldson's son graduated from Palm Beach Central High School and she works as a student advocate, helping families in the district.
"I know these people. I know they care about the kids. Their whole life is the kids," Donaldson said. "They are just being portrayed as something completely different."
Donaldson said when she saw the news, "It broke my heart for the student, for her friend and for the administration."
Donaldson said she is all for holding people accountable, but hopes the right people are held accountable in this case.
"I hope it's a wake-up call for everyone that it's not our place to judge. It's not our place to investigate," Donaldson said. "It's simply our place to report and move on and support the child. That's what our place is."
Angela Cruz Ledford, a spokeswoman for the School District of Palm Beach County, released the following statement to WPTV on Tuesday:
"We are aware of the arrests of employees from the School District of Palm Beach County. We cannot comment on an open investigation. We can confirm that these employees have been re-assigned to positions that do not have student contact.
The allegations involving students occurred off of school property and over a weekend. However, no matter when or where any alleged assault against a student occurs, our policy aligns with the law, which requires all personnel to report suspected abuse."