GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have been investigating two separate assault allegations involving members of a central Kansas high school swim team.
The Saline County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a report that a Great Bend High School student was assaulted on a bus as the school’s swim team returned from a recent competition. That incident reportedly occurred three days before another incident under investigation by the Ellsworth County Sheriff’s Department that was reported to have occurred Feb. 6 as the swim team returned from a Manhattan meet.
The incidents, which authorities have not described in detail, have sparked protests at the Great Bend School District offices by family members and students who question the district’s response to the allegations.
Brad Reed, superintendent of the Great Bend school district, said the district is investigating the allegations and also cooperating with law enforcement. Reed said the district will take “appropriate action” once the investigation is completed, and that the district has revised its practices “regarding adult monitoring and supervision on bus trips to reduce the likelihood of any inappropriate behavior.”
“The district takes this and all claims of harassment or other wrongdoing seriously and continues to be concerned about the safety, well being and fair treatment of all its students,” Reed said Monday in a statement. Great Bend is a town of about 15,000 residents located about 200 miles of Topeka.
Saline County Capt. Roger Soldan said a 15-year-old member of the swim team reported Saturday he had been sexually assaulted by another team member on a bus as the team was leaving a restaurant after a meet in Salina on Feb. 3. He said his office, which has been working with authorities in Ellsworth County, hasn’t investigated anything similar previously.
“What was reported would be criminal, but it’s too early in the investigation to say what kind of charges would be if there are charges at all,” Soldan said Tuesday.
Ellsworth County Sheriff Tracy Ploutz told The Salina Journal the incident that allegedly occurred in that county involves three 14-year-old victims and possibly a fourth boy, all swim team members. He said the incident was being investigated as criminal.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Education did not immediately respond Tuesday to emails and phone messages seeking comment.
Catherine Hill, vice president for research at the American Association of University Women, said sexual harassment among high school students is a considerable problem. She said a 2011 AAUW report found that nearly half the students from seventh grade through high school face sexual harassment, which that study characterized to include verbal, cyber and physical harassment.
“Even it’s not illegal, it’s still a problem,” Hill said.
She also said students frequently encounter problems on buses.
“From all of our research buses are big problem,” Hill said. “Things happen on buses that shouldn’t be happening.” She said schools would ideally have another adult besides the driver on the school bus “so there would be some discipline, some adult control.”
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