A Columbia County Sheriff’s Office police report says at least six staff members including the assistant principal and principal at Pinemount Elementary were aware of the alleged off-campus sexual abuse involving a student. Disciplinary action has been taken against personnel after the school district says staff members failed to comply with district policies requiring sex abuse allegations be reported.
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Children and Families are investigating.
“Both the child and a sibling are in protective custody. We have concerns that we were not immediately notified regarding these allegations,” said John Harrell, spokesperson for DCF.
According to the Sheriff’s Office report, on April 11 staff members of the school were notified that a student told other children on the bus that she was raped by a relative. Florida law requires anyone who suspects abuse to contact the Florida Abuse Hotline. Instead, the report says the Assistant Principal Marilyn Gassett arranged for a parent-teacher conference.
“Even before the law was strengthened, even before 2012, you had a mandatory reporting law which required schools, hospitals, doctors to report suspected abuse anyway,” added Harrell.
Law enforcement got involved the next day because the child’s mother took the child to the hospital to be examined. After investigating, the Sheriff’s Office arrested Arnold Dean Lyles on sexual assault charge for sexual battery on a victim under 12 years of age. The sheriff’s office is still investigating.
“It is a third degree felony. Ultimately it’s law enforcement’s decision as far as what they want to do, but its something that we’re very concerned about,” said Harrell as he explained what the charge could be for someone who does not report abuse.
A Lake City Reporter article dated August 2013 reports Gassett used to be a principal at Niblack Elementary and was demoted and moved to Pinemount Elementary in 2013.
First Coast News tried to speak with Gassett at her home, but a woman told us through the window that she was not interested in commenting.
District will not release information about the disciplinary action taken against personnel until ten days after the staff was notified. The Assistant Superintendent said no one will comment on the case until then. We also reached out to the mother of the child. She chose not to go on camera.