Four Robstown Independent School District employees have been disciplined amid allegations of a strip search, assaulting a student and releasing confidential information to the public.
A school security guard was suspended for allegedly slapping a student across the face, while a school police officer was suspended and subsequently terminated for allegedly conducting a strip search. Two other employees, including an assistant principal, were suspended for allegedly releasing confidential information to the public about the alleged strip search.
The allegations surfaced last week when a 15-year-old high school girl alleged that RISD security guard Elizabeth Ortegon slapped her across the face during an incident in the high school quadrangle about two weeks ago.
Superintendent Roberto Garcia said, based on the investigation so far, that the 15-year-old girl was in the quadrangle around Sept. 25 when another student began yelling at her.
Ortegon was trying to hold the 15-year-old girl back during the verbal confrontation between the two students when the 15-year-old girl alleged that Ortegon slapped her across the face, Garcia said.
Ortegon, a 13-year employee of RISD, was suspended with pay shortly after the allegation came to light.
She said in a statement to school officials that she did not assault the 15-year-old girl, but Garcia said the 15-year-old girl and her mother were both adamant that the assault did occur when he met with them.
"We're still collecting other eyewitness reports of the incident," Garcia said.
The other reported incident involved the alleged strip-searching of a 12-year-old Seale Junior High School girl.
The girl accused newly hired police officer Jessica Cantu of making her disrobe about two weeks ago while Cantu reportedly investigated a report of the girl possessing matches.
The incident occurred also around Sept. 25 as Cantu was called from her post at the high school to the junior high school to investigate the report. Cantu then reportedly took the girl into the teacher's lounge at the junior high and conducted the search.
The alleged search involved having the 12-year-old girl remove her pants and blouse, and not her undergarments, Garcia said.
Garcia said Cantu and other Robstown ISD police officers have the authority to conduct searches of students.
The school board narrowly approved the creation of the school district's own three-to-four person police force, with a $125,000 budget, at a special meeting July 3.
Garcia said the school district needed its own police to curtail drug possession in schools and enhance student safety with quicker police responses.
Cantu and the newly hired police officers are certified and may carry firearms and make arrests, unlike prior security personnel.
The school district had used a mix of security personnel who were either district employees, or security guards from Accident Reconstruction, with whom the district had an $84,000 annual security contract before creating its own police force.
Several school board members, and Robstown Mayor Rodrigo Ramon Jr., urged Garcia to proceed cautiously with the creation of the school district's own police force.
Garcia said at the time he wanted a policed force on campuses in time for the 2007-08 school year, acknowledging there would be "growing pains."
Garcia said he believed in hindsight that Cantu over-reacted since the alleged search of the 12-year-old girl was prompted by a search for matches, not drugs or weapons.
"My advice has been that the search is, in essence, not illegal as I understand from authorities," Garcia said. "But the administration believes that the search went beyond the scope of looking for matches. The search was over-intrusive on the young 12-year-old girl. As school officials, it is our responsibility to make sure the rights of the students are protected."
Garcia said he met with the 12-year-old girl and her grandmother. He said the grandparent felt that the alleged search was OK since it was conducted by a female police officer.
Cantu denied to school officials that she ever conducted any kind of strip search, Garcia said.
However, another security officer, Irma Hernandez, said she witnessed the alleged strip search.
"Even though the police officer denied doing that at all, our evidence proves she did as per the interviews we conducted with the student, her grandmother and the security officer," Garcia said.
Cantu was suspended with pay shortly after Sept. 25 for allegedly strip-searching the girl. She was terminated Monday, Garcia said.
Hernandez submitted a report about the incident, but the report did not go through proper channels, Garcia said.
Instead, Hernandez's report was obtained by Adrian Guererro, assistant principal at Ortiz Intermediate School, who is Hernandez's fianc/, Garcia said.
Guererro gave it to Mauro Garza, a high school truant officer, Garcia said.
Hernandez's report was unknown to exist until a "citizen" brought it to the administration's attention Sept. 28, Garcia said.
"That's how we got wind of it," he said. "We re-opened the investigation when we got wind of the letter circulating in the community."
Garcia said Guerrero and Garza were suspended for "improper distribution of a school investigative document concerning a minor student."
Guererro was suspended with pay Oct. 1 and Garza was suspended with pay Oct. 4. Garza's suspension was changed to without pay on Monday.
The suspensions are indefinite, "until the conclusion of investigation and action to be taken," Garcia said.
"I just want to ensure the parents of our community that we deal with matters in a proper manner, protecting both the rights and the interests of the students and employees," Garcia said. "Also, our utmost concern is the safety of staff and students and we will continue to work toward that end."
Robstown Police Chief Johnny Brown said Monday there had been no recent reports from Robstown students alleging anything inappropriate at the schools.