WARWICK, RI — A petition on Change.org with 73 supporters calls for the removal of Cedar Hill Principal Colleen Mercurio over her handling of a report of sexual abuse between two students on a bus in the fall of 2016, a complaint Warwick Public Schools Superintendent Phil Thornton says the administration is investigating.
“Dr. Mercurio has fostered a culture at Cedar Hill where students are routinely subjected to unsafe and hostile situations. During the four years that Dr. Mercurio has been principal, many of the parents listed on this petition have gone to her in good faith to inform her about serious instances of student misconduct, including bullying, cyber-bullying, sexual assaults and racial slurs. In each instance, Dr. Mercurio has mishandled incidents, minimized parent complaints, intimidated victimized students, or outright ignored situations,” Smith wrote in in the Change.org petition, which he also presented to the Warwick School Committee July 11, recorded in a video posted to YouTube and linked to the petition.
On Facebook, Kelly Smith posted the comments from an anonymous Cedar Hill Elementary School parent who said their 8-year-old daughter had been sexually assaulted on her school bus by a friend and fellow student on the bus, who shielded their sexual activity using backpacks.
“During our first meeting, Dr Mercurio told us the bus wasn’t “the school’s responsibility” and she later admitted to never contacting the bus company. She also did not make her superiors aware following our very first (or our second) mtg (sic) with her,” the parent wrote.
“Not only did she NOT do her job, she put our child in DIRECT HARM after sweeping many previous reports of sexual misconduct and behavior under the rug. I am thankful we were directed to go around the politics of WPS and file our complaints with the Office of Civil Rights, who accepted our case immediately upon receiving it,” the parent continued.
Mercurio could not be immediately reached for comment.
Thornton said he and his staff have looked into the parents’ complaints, and he expects to finish with that investigation, “In the coming weeks.”
School Committee member Karen Bachus said the complaints are troubling, because such reports are legally required to be reported.
“I know the teachers are 100 percent with her. I don’t know where the disconnect is,” Bachus said.
“Often, there is more to the story,” Thornton said. He added that while several parents have complained about Mercurio’s handling of the complaints, “I have many other emails supporting the principal, saying she does a wonderful job.”
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