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Girl’s family upset with Kellenberg response to reported groping

The sign at the entrance to Kellenberg Memorial

The sign at the entrance to Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale on Nov. 9, 2015. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

The Nassau district attorney’s office has referred to the county attorney’s office for possible prosecution in family court a case in which a 12-year-old girl says two boys groped her repeatedly at Kellenberg Memorial High School.

Kellenberg, the prestigious Catholic school in Uniondale run by the Marianist order, has said in a statement to Newsday that it took “significant disciplinary actions” against two seventh graders for what it described as “inappropriate behavior.”

The girl’s parents say they are upset because they believe the boys’ punishment did not reflect the seriousness of the offense. The parents say the school suspended the boys for two days. Kellenberg officials would not comment further on the specific disciplinary action taken or discuss the nature of the incident.

“We believe it to be inappropriate to respond further as it violates the privacy of minors, but Kellenberg’s strong and consistent track record on protecting the safety of our young people is clear and unequivocal,” the school’s statement to Newsday said. “An internal review of this incident affirms our belief that the school responded appropriately and in keeping with our moral and legal obligation to keep our students safe.”

Newsday does not identify alleged victims of sexual offenses and is not identifying the boys because of their age.

The mother and the girl said they went to the Nassau police headquarters in Mineola on March 23 to ask about filing a police report. They decided filing charges would not be worth the ordeal for the girl, the mother said.

Nassau police confirmed the meeting.

The mother later also sent an email to the Diocese of Rockville Centre and asked to meet with Bishop John Barres.

“In accordance with established procedures, the diocese did report the matter to the Nassau County district attorney’s office,” diocese spokesman Sean Dolan said. The request to meet Barres was denied because of the referral to prosecutors.

A spokesman for the district attorney’s office said, “Because of the ages of the accused individuals, the district attorney does not have jurisdiction over the case or investigation. Therefore, we referred the case to the county attorney, who does have jurisdiction over accused individuals of this age” in family court.

The girl and her parents spoke to a Newsday reporter at their home, decorated inside and out with religious imagery. Two of the girl’s four older siblings also attended Kellenberg, and one brother attended Chaminade High School in Mineola, which like Kellenberg is run by the Marianist order.

“We gladly supported what we believed to be a great place,” the girl’s mother said. She said Kellenberg’s strict disciplinary code and its emphasis on “civility, order, respect” were attractive. She liked that students could get demerits for chewing gum or not wearing their uniforms properly.

The girl said that she initially endured weeks of sexually themed verbal harassment by the boys but that things worsened after the February break.

On the stairway to the school’s chorus room, the girl said, a boy and his friend began groping her.

Around this time, her father noticed she had suddenly become silent when he drove her to school in the morning. “She completely shut down,” he said.

On Monday, March 13, the girl said, she confided in her science teacher, who immediately took her to the deans for Kellenberg’s Latin School for students in grades 6-8. They had her write a detailed statement about what had been happening, she said.

The next school day after a snowstorm, March 15, the girl said, she saw the two boys cleaning out their lockers. She assumed they had been expelled, she said.

But then she heard they had been suspended for two days. She said she spent the rest of the day crying in the bathroom, particularly after some of the boys’ friends blamed her for them getting suspended. She asked her parents to withdraw her from the school.

“I said, ‘I’m not going back,’ ” the girl said. “They’re not going to protect me.”

Kellenberg, through a spokesman, cited “the law, obvious privacy concerns and our school’s overarching commitment to protecting our students” in declining to address much of the family’s account and its dissatisfaction with the school’s response.

Kellenberg’s student handbook says the school “maintains a zero tolerance for bullying,” noting that students should always abide by the code of civility, order, respect when communicating with each other. The handbook also prohibits hazing and harassment, adding that “any offense in this regard will be treated in the severest terms.” And it lists “immoral conduct” and “disrespect” as “major offenses against Christian morality and will not be tolerated by school authorities.”

The parents consented to the girl’s wishes, and she now attends a school where she said she feels safe.

The mother said the family has decided to speak out after Kellenberg issued a public statement saying that “inappropriate behavior occurred among three seventh grade students in the hallways of our middle school.” That statement — which was published on the school’s website — suggested the girl was just as much to blame for what happened, she and her parents said.

The case has roiled Kellenberg. An online petition calling for the school to strengthen its policies against sexual misconduct has more than 600 supporters.

With Nicole Fuller and Bart Jones


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