LAWRENCE (CBS) – The Department of Education is investigating a Lawrence Public School after a teen reports massages were given to staff members. “I didn’t want to do it and she made me,” 13-year-old Hazel said.
Hazel feels confused after she says she was asked to put her hands on a staff member at her school. “She told me to start rubbing her hands and her shoulder and then it increased even more like her knee and then her legs,” she explained.
Hazel was attending the School for Exceptional Studies in Lawrence, a school for students with special educational needs.
Her mother didn’t know about these massages until Hazel was suspended for something unrelated.
“And I said what? And I said can you explain to me honey what does that mean? when she asks you to give her massages? And she says, well she likes when I massage her and I have to massage her,” her mother said.
Hazel told her mother these massages were taking place during her gym class behind a closed curtain. She says a male and female staff member were involved. “He told me to put my hand on her leg so he got his hand on top of my hand and he started to rub,” Hazel added.
Lawrence Public Schools tells WBZ the complaint was investigated immediately and the district then requested and cooperated with an outside agency.
Christopher Markuns, a spokesman for the Lawrence Public Schools said in a statement: “We conducted a thorough investigation into all of these concerns immediately upon receiving them, at the conclusion of which we took appropriate action. We additionally requested and cooperated with investigations by an outside agency. We received findings consistent with our own, and which do not support the narrative currently being described. Moving forward we will, as always, continue to communicate and work directly with the parties involved, prioritizing the best interests of students and the privacy of families and staff.”
While DCF would only say the investigation is complete, its report references a second student. “[The staff members] denial of any activity is concerning, given both girls describe some degree of contact,” the DCF report stated.
The report says the investigation came to light after Hazel was suspended adding in part: “However, the other student’s disclosure was unsolicited, and without any precipitating or motivating influence. There is no reason to question her credibility.”
Hazel’s mother, stands by her daughter. “They blamed it on the fight and that fight had to happen for me to find out because I still wouldn’t have knowledge of it,” she explained. “I knew she was telling the truth and the other little girl said the same thing and I know my daughter is telling the truth, 100 percent.”
The Essex County DA’s Office says it also conducted an investigation and found no evidence of a crime, adding if anyone else comes forward they will investigate further.
The family, and their attorney, hope the Department of Education’s report reveals more.
“These are children with special needs you really have to meet the criteria to get to this school not just anybody can enter the school. It’s a School for Exceptional Studies. I think those two staff members shouldn’t be working there. Absolutely not. There are children who are vulnerable who are still there in harm’s way,” the mother said.
“These kinds of abuse suffered by Hazel, both physical and sexual- being forced to give massages-is all too commonplace. Where students are vulnerable or disabled, and parents are poor or not powerful, they are easy prey for predators and it is easy for schools and other authorities to brush things under the rug,” the family’s attorney, Tyler Fox said.