- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

Authorities in Frederick County, Md., have begun investigating a report of repeated incidents in which eighth-grade boys fondled and taunted first-grade girls on a public school bus last fall.

The mother of one first-grade girl said she first learned of the fondling accusations this month and is criticizing school officials for not alerting her.

Detective Willie Ollie of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Department said he has opened an investigation into the case.

“I’m still gathering facts and interviewing witnesses,” Detective Ollie said, declining to provide more information.

Steve Martin, associate superintendent of Frederick County public schools, said “because there is an active police investigation, I can’t share anything.”

“Once an incident of this type is turned over to the police department, we cease all investigation,” Mr. Martin said. “We are very much in a holding pattern, waiting to hear back from the sheriff’s office.”

Frankie Sechler said her daughter was one of three first-grade girls who were fondled and harassed by the boys. She found out about the fondling this month while talking to the bus driver.

“I’m very upset with the school,” Mrs. Sechler said. “I feel like they’re trying now to cover it up.”

Efforts to contact the parents of the other girls were unsuccessful. However, Mrs. Sechler said that one of the other mothers had talked to a school official and was satisfied that her daughter had been “tickled,” not fondled.

The first-grade girls rode a bus to West Frederick Middle School, where they would catch a shuttle bus to attend the gifted-and-talented magnet program at Urbana Elementary School.

Mrs. Sechler said bus driver Bob Baxley told her in January that two eighth-grade boys had been disciplined for talking sexually to her daughter and two other girls since early last fall.

One boy was removed from West Frederick Middle School and the other was suspended for three days, she said.

Mrs. Sechler said she learned from Mr. Baxley on May 11 that the boys had been “inappropriately touching” her daughter.

“He couldn’t believe [school system officials] had not told me,” Mrs. Sechler said. “They never told me about the touching. I found out by accident.”

Mr. Baxley said he could not discuss the matter when contacted this week.

West Frederick Vice Principal Bernard Pond referred questions to the school system’s spokeswoman.

At a May 11 school board meeting, Mrs. Sechler testified that “some children have been sexually molested on middle-school buses this year” and asked board members what they intended to do about it.

She said school officials have refused to offer alternative transportation to West Frederick Middle School, so she now drives her daughter to school.

School board member Jean Smith called Mrs. Sechler’s testimony “very inappropriate public comment.”

She said the board is not notified of a student disciplinary measure unless it first goes to the superintendent and parents then appeal his decision to the board.

“You don’t have to be in first grade for this to happen, and I’ve heard things like this before,” Lori Goldman, president of the county PTA Council, said of the bus incidents.

Mrs. Goldman said she plans to press the school board in the coming year for a plan to keep children safe on school buses.

“We’re going to take action this year and make it an issue,” she said.

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