A 10-year-old Baltimore girl who police say was raped in a stairwell of a elementary school was suspended yesterday, after an extraordinary day in which her principal questioned whether the rape had occurred.
The principal, Annette Hall, told an assembly of youngsters in grades one through five that the girl and her assailants, who also were suspended, may have shared the blame.
"I explained to the students that three of their fellow classmates had made some bad decisions," Ms. Hall said last night. "They were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Police were called to the North Bend Elementary School Monday after a teacher discovered the girl and two 10-year-old boys shortly after the incident, which occurred in a second-floor stairwell about 1 p.m. One of the boys was seen pulling up his pants, police said.
Ms. Hall, asked whether she believed the girl had been raped, said: "Yes, but I'm hesitant, and I'm thinking because the stories of the three of them are inconsistent. While I know that she has lied about going to the library . . . I think the medical report will prove that she was traumatized."
Police said yesterday that they had reinterviewed the girl and reaffirmed their conclusion that a rape had occurred.
The school district's handling of the incident prompted a strongly worded response from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, among others.
"The mayor was not aware that this action was going to be taken," said Clinton R. Coleman, spokesman for Mr. Schmoke. "It certainly is extraordinary action. Clearly, the mayor would have preferred that the principal wait until police had concluded their investigation before taking any punitive action against the victim."
Mr. Coleman said the school system "may be guilty of interfering with a police investigation" because officials took "action against a victim" during a police inquiry. He added that school officials do not have "access to all the facts."
After a day in which school officials offered varying rationales for the suspension, Ms. Hall and Nat Harrington, the school system spokesman, said the girl was removed from classes to protect her from the taunts of schoolmates.
Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said last night that the three students had to be removed from the school, and the only way to do it legally is by suspending them.
"I want to be real clear: If the principal did it in the best interests of the children, I support her decision," he said.
Advocates for victims of sexual assault were perplexed by the school system's response.
"That reinforces the blame, the guilt, all these negative emotions vTC that victims feel," said Laureen Bastone, a therapist at the Sexual Assault Center in Baltimore.
She said that a 10-year-old may not understand why she is being removed from the school. "It's very, very damaging for a child. . . . I think a sense of fear is driving [school officials], rather than the knowledge of what's best for this child."
According to police, the girl was dragged into the stairwell by the two boys. One then raped her, the girl said, while the other stood guard. Both boys were charged with first-degree rape and released to the custody of their parents.
Mr. Harrington called The Sun yesterday to report that all three children had been suspended after teachers and social workers heard conflicting stories about whether the sex was consensual. He said the girl lied to her teacher to get out of class shortly before the incident and witnesses said they saw her walking with the boys, not being dragged as she had claimed.
Officer Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman, confirmed a follow-up investigation, but said the department stood by its finding.
"If new information is obtained or new information arises to indicate to us that the facts of the incident have changed, certainly it will be thoroughly investigated," Officer Weinhold said. "However, at this time, the facts remain the same. . . . The two juveniles are still charged."
Yesterday, Ms. Hall met with the three youths and their parents. The girl could be transferred to another school after a disciplinary hearing in 10 days.
The principal, who went on local television stations and called the incident "sexual activity," said she was shocked at the incident.
"I thought that students were more focused on play activity," she said. "To think that kids are taking on very adultlike behavior and to think that this kind of behavior could occur in a school is really frightening."
Ms. Hall said she admonished many young students to refrain from joking about the incident.
"Some of the cruelest people in the world are children," she said. "They tease and they criticize. It would be far too traumatic for her to return to his setting. She needs a fresh start in a new environment."