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Framingham schools face US scrutiny amid sexual assault complaints

The US Department of Education is investigating allegations that the Framingham school district did not properly handle complaints that a Framingham High School student sexually assaulted two younger female high school students in the school building during the past year.

Framingham’s school superintendent said he was notified this week that the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights plans to look into some allegations, including a complaint that the Framingham district did not appropriately handle the sexual assault allegations and did not have ­appropriate procedures to handle such complaints.

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In addition, the office will look into a complaint that the school district has not designated a coordinator to oversee the district’s compliance with the federal Title IX law, which prohibits sex discrimination in ­education, according to Jim Bradshaw, a department spokesman.

The charges have roiled the school system and the community for weeks.

Kevin Fox, a former school social worker, said he resigned a few weeks ago because he ­believed the situation was mishandled. He said the accusations concern a student who ­allegedly assaulted a female student under a school stairwell in April 2012 and another in a classroom in June 2012.

Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone’s office said that it investigated in 2012, and decided not to file criminal charges. Leone’s office declined to specify whether it had investigated both allegations.

“We conducted a comprehensive investigation, assessing the allegations against the well-established very high prosecutorial standards of proof and persuasion that we apply to all criminal allegations,” the statement reads. “Based on that assess­ment, we determined that the matter would be closed out without the filing of criminal charges.”

Fox said that as punishment, the student had a five-day suspension at the end of June.

Framingham Superintendent Stacy Scott, who began his job in July, said he could not comment on disciplinary steps.

Scott said that the district will cooperate with the federal investigation. He said he is confident that the local administrators followed federal law exactly during their internal inquiry into the allegations.

“I think we’ll be found as conforming to the laws and regulations,” he said Thursday, noting that the district has two weeks to provide the federal ­office information on how its investigation was conducted.

After the district replies, “that’s probably all there will be to it,” Scott said. “Sometimes a complainee misunderstands how we manage our investigations, or they misunderstand the Title IX law.”

Scott also noted that as super­intendent, he is designated as the overseer of Title IX implementation and that he took the job seriously in light of the recent sexual allegations.

“When I did arrive, there were a number of actions I took, including reviewing the procedures and practices that did occur and figure out if anything else could be done in the aftermath to make sure we were following up on the incident,” he said.

Scott said that if the federal officers do find noncompliance with Title IX law, the consequences would probably not be as severe as withholding funds or terminating administrators.

“The Office for Civil Rights is always very supportive and collaborative,” he said. “If it’s found that we did not conform to the laws, then we’ll adjust our policies and procedures to make sure we’ll follow them in the future.”

Beverly Hugo, a Framingham School Committee member, said the committee would be reviewing the district’s policies and procedures.

“The safety and well-being of our students is of paramount importance,” Hugo said. “It is our policy to fully cooperate with any supervising agency, and we look forward to receiving any feedback about improving our school climate.”

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jaclynreiss.
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