Police are investigating whether an Apache Junction High School security guard behaved inappropriately with a 16-year-old female student.
Principal Marla Zimmerman, who has been accused by some parents and employees of not properly handling the allegations, resigned her position Saturday during a special meeting of the Apache Junction Unified School District governing board, giving no reason, in public, as to why. District officials will not comment about the move, saying the issue is a personnel matter.
Superintendent Greg Wyman said he could not comment on whether Zimmerman’s resignation and the investigation are related.
The mother of the girl alleging the abuse along with Will McElroy, another security guard at the high school, began in January calling for the resignation of not only Zimmerman, but other staff who they say were aware of the allegations against the security guard but failed to follow the proper channels for investigating the matter. District officials would not release the name of the security guard under investigation.
McElroy has been on paid leave since Jan. 16 and said he never received a full explanation from the district as to why.
“I haven’t got a phone call or a letter or anything,” he said. “I find that strange.”
He was placed on leave the day after the girl who is alleging misconduct filed sexual abuse and assault charges against the security guard with the Apache Junction Police Department on Jan. 15.
The police report stated that a male security guard at the school hugged the girl and “smacked her on the butt” despite her protests. It also stated that the guard tried to convince the girl to go off-road riding with him, and that he often waited outside her classroom door for her to come out.
It cited two other security guards as witnesses to the behavior and stated that the girl believed the guards had reported the behavior to administration but that nothing had come of it.
Apache Junction police spokesman Jay Swart said the matter is still under investigation.
McElroy said he was one of the guards who witnessed the behavior and that despite repeatedly reporting it both verbally and in writing, nothing seemed to happen. The guard remained on campus and continued to harass the girl, he said. The guard was eventually placed on leave in mid-January, while the investigation is ongoing.
McElroy filed a report to the Arizona State Board of Education’s Investigative Unit in late January, detailing his concerns about the administration’s handling of the situation.
The Apache Junction district’s response to McElroy’s reports came in the form of a letter from Wyman on Dec. 17 stating that Zimmerman looked into his concerns but found no grounds to further investigate.
Zimmerman could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
According to Arizona statutes school personnel are not required to fully investigate suspected abuse of a minor, but rather to report the information to the proper authorities.
In the case of a crime against a minor, which happened on schools grounds, that authority is local law enforcement, said Charles Easaw, chief investigator with the state board. A person who violates this is guilty of a class one misdemeanor; if the failure to report involves a reportable offense, the person is guilty of a class six felony.
The law emphasizes that the standard for making reports, both to law enforcement agencies and the education department, is “a reasonable belief” that misconduct has taken place. According to the statute, this means “if there are any facts from which one could reasonably conclude that a child has been abused, the person knowing those facts is required to report those facts to the appropriate authorities.” Reasonable grounds is a low standard, according to the statutes.
A report should be made in writing “as soon as is reasonably practicable, but no later than three business days after the person first suspects or receives an allegation of misconduct.”
Easaw said his unit does not investigate every complaint it receives. He said complaints are first reviewed to determine if they are credible. He said no formal investigation has been opened regarding the Zimmerman complaint at this time.
Wyman said Tuesday night that he was not aware that a complaint had been filed with the state board.
Zimmerman became principal in July 2006 replacing Chad Wilson, who was named the district’s associate superintendent of educational services. Before coming to Apache Junction, she was the principal of Copper Ridge Middle School in Scottsdale.