In 2005, a third-grade girl told her mom that her teacher had “fondled” her during a reading group.
According to a police report obtained by the Sun Sentinel:
The girl said he touched her under her clothing and instructed her to touch his private area over his clothing.
When Coral Sunset Elementary in Boca Raton, Florida, began its investigations of the teacher, Blake Sinrod, three other girls came forward, telling similar stories. Some shared similarities to the initial girl, while others added that they also had to give him neck rubs.
But the teacher didn’t immediately lose his job despite accusations against Sinrod dating back to 2003 that alleged that a similar incident happened to a second-grader. At that time, the assistant principal had told the parents of the child that because Sinrod was a “highly recommended teacher,” their daughter must be lying.
The police found enough evidence to charge Sinrod in all four of the third-graders’ cases, but the state attorney decided to only pursue two of them.
Sinrod pleaded guilty to the child abuse charges in 2006. He was fired from his job in 2006, and his teaching license was revoked two years later. After he met the conditions of his probation, “adjudication was withheld,” the Sun Sentinel reported.
Around the time Sinrod was convicted in 2006, the parents of the four third-grade girls filed a lawsuit against the school district.
The lawyers of the victims argued that the school district “failed to investigate or take proper allegations” against the teacher in 2003. They also argued that the children were likely targeted because of their parents’ immigration status.
In their defense, the Palm Beach County School District “insisted” that the victims were responsible for their teacher molesting them.
According to the Sun Sentinel, the district claimed:
The children were old enough to know better than to listen to their teacher when he told them to fondle him.
The case has been ongoing for the past 12 years. Now, the district is looking at paying $3.6 million in order to settle the civil suit.
On Wednesday, the defense used by the school district was met with outrage by “at least two” Palm Beach County School Board members, including Frank Barbieri, who spoke out:
“I don’t think a child can ever consent to being sexually abused. The School Board never authorized such a defense.”
Another board member, Erica Whitfield, reported that district officials told her that “the defense was a mistake.” She added that the defense “is not how I personally feel and I don’t think that’s how the board feels.”
The district claims that an outside law firm, which drafted the defense, centered it around whether the children were “old enough to appreciate the consequences of their actions.” But Dale Friedman, who worked with the outside law firm, said:
“We have never blamed these girls or given the appearance of holding the girls responsible for what their teacher did.”
The Sun Sentinel reports that the school board’s current lawyer, Marc Wites, said:
“I would say the girls and their families are relieved that this case is over. Although they will be unhappy this case is in the news again, they hope the publication of the story will put parents and teachers and students on alert. One would think a school would be a place where children could be safe but unforgettably that’s not always the case.”
The school board is expected to approve the settlement amount during its October 18 meeting.