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Principal Accused of Covering Up Abuse Charges

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By Jeff Archer

A grand jury in Florida has charged that the principal of Pensacola High School withheld allegations of sexual abuse by school football players in order to preserve the team's chances of winning a state championship.

Officials in the Escambia County district were considering disciplinary action last week against the principal, Horace Jones, a former National Football League player. And the family of the alleged victim, a 15-year-old special education student, said through their lawyer that they were considering a lawsuit against the district and Mr. Jones.

The 36-page grand jury report charges that the girl performed oral sex on at least 20 members of the football team in a women's restroom and in a locker room at the school's stadium on Oct. 17.

Eight members of the team have been charged with lewd and lascivious acts involving a minor. They face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The accusations became public earlier this month with the unsealing of the grand jury report, which calls on the district to discipline Mr. Jones and other school employees.

"The principal and members of his staff concealed the incident out of fear of bad publicity for the school in general and the football team in particular," the report states.

The allegations have split the Gulf Coast city, where members of the Pensacola High School student government spoke out in support of Mr. Jones at a press conference last week.

Mr. Jones, a former defensive end for the Oakland Raiders professional-football team, declined to comment. He has been with the district since 1975.

Before the grand jury released its findings, Mr. Jones had already been removed from his post as the school's principal and placed in an administrative position for an unrelated incident. District officials said he failed to evacuate his school during a bomb threat in March. The school district has been plagued with a series of such threats in recent months.

A Slow Response

In October, word of the alleged sexual misconduct spread quickly through the high school. But the report from the Escambia County grand jury contends that school officials reacted slowly.

Mr. Jones did not report the incident to Escambia County Superintendent Bill Maloy, who learned of it from a concerned resident nearly a month later, the report says. Mr. Maloy immediately told Mr. Jones to alert police.

Mr. Jones told the grand jury that he began his own investigation soon after the incident by interviewing students. "Aside from the interviews of the two students, the principal did not, however, conduct any further investigation of the incidents," the report says.

The grand jury report claims Mr. Jones threatened the school's counselors with loss of their jobs when he believed one of them had leaked information about the incident.

The alleged victim has been transferred to another high school in the 45,000-student district.

The report suggests that Mr. Jones feared word of the incident might jeopardize the football team's chances of a state championship. Pensacola High won its district championship, but lost in the first round of the regional tournament in November.

Further Investigation

Superintendent Maloy postponed a decision last week on possible disciplinary action against Mr. Jones, saying he needed more time to review the grand jury report and conclude his own investigation.

In a prepared statement, the district said it would "attempt to answer some additional questions prior to recommending disciplinary action."

The family of the alleged victim, whose name has not been released, was considering a lawsuit, according to their lawyer, Virginia Buchanan.

"I was just appalled when I read the grand jury report," Ms. Buchanan said in an interview. "The teachers and administrators and principal all had an obligation to call the state officials and tell them of this event."

The grand jury report cites disagreement over whether the girl consented to have sex with the boys.

"The victim, who has changed her story through time, last stated that she was coerced; the male students have always maintained that she freely submitted," the report states.

But Ms. Buchanan said the point is irrelevant. The girl is both a minor and learning-disabled, she noted. "There was a problem with letting this thing happen whether she wanted it to or not."

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