Two elementary teachers responsible for monitoring a school playground when an autistic 7-year-old boy was coerced into performing sexual acts on classmates were not at fault, school district police found.
The 2015 incident at Addison Mizner Elementary in Boca Raton – which prompted a $185,000 legal settlement last week between the child’s family and the Palm Beach County School Board – was investigated by school district police as a potential case of child neglect.
State child-welfare investigators who had investigated the case concluded that it happened as a result of “inadequate supervision,” attorneys maintained in a lawsuit filed last year. The autistic child’s education plan required him to be supervised at all times.
But a police investigation obtained by The Palm Beach Post through a public-records request concluded that the two teachers monitoring the playground had made a “reasonable effort” to monitor the students, who reportedly carried out sexual acts on each other while hid from view by a climbing wall on the playground.
School district police say the boy, now 9, was on a playground at Addison Mizner Elementary School in Boca Raton in November 2015 when other students announced that they were starting a “sex club.”
On the playground, three students exposed themselves, and two students, including the 7-year-old autistic boy, later admitted they performed sexual acts, according to a police report.
A district police investigator determined that two teachers supervising the playground at the time had worked in a “proactive manner” to monitor the entire playground and did not appear to have been distracted.
The teachers “made a reasonable effort to protect the students while on the playground by providing care and supervision,” the report stated.
Instead, police blamed the incident on the design of the playground, which included rounded “play walls” that allowed children to hide from view.
“This design could conceal someone enough that the only way they would be seen was if a person was to approach the mount side play wall and look around the back as if you were looking into a cave,” police wrote in a report in November 2015.
School district officials say that the climbing wall was not removed from the playground, nor are there any plans to do so.
Jamie Sasson, an attorney for the family of the autistic boy, said the case revealed that too few school officials monitor students during recess.
“I think there wasn’t enough supervision out there,” he said. “I think that’s a general problem in most schools.”
The boy transferred to another school and later attended weekly psychotherapy sessions, the suit said.