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March 3, 2003

Allegations of Sexual Abuse

From: KSFY, SD - 03 Mar 2003

The South Dakota School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls is a place where students go to learn, fit in and feel safe. Instead, a South Dakota lawyer tells Dakota First News the school became a place where students were apparently abused. The controversy has some parents pulling their children out of school.

Attorney Kenneth Dewell, who represents some of the parents, describes the situation as, "Clients, more than one, whose children have been victims of apparent abuse at the school. Clients' requests that the school help them by obtaining the services of an independent qualified counselor have gone nowhere." He wouldn't say how many victims allege abuse, but he did say there is more than one.

Dewell says some of the victims? parents have taken their students out of the school while others have not. He adds the school has been "less than fully cooperative." He says it was an older student who apparently sexually abused younger victims during school activities. KSFY called school administrators but they refused to talk. Attorney Dewell tells KSFY, "It came to our attention that an investigation regarding sexual abuse within the School for the Deaf had occurred and that the investigation was underway."

School officials aren't talking, but Dewell says the school informed the parents about the investigation several weeks ago. "It involved several younger children in the school with a perpetrator that was going to school at the same time," he says. Children at the school range in age from kindergarten to high school and come primarily from South Dakota and western Minnesota. According to Dewell, the perpetrator is an older student and the victims are in middle school. "I want the School for the Deaf to acknowledge that the sexual abuse occurred, to acknowledge they have a responsibility to these parents." He also wants the school to bring in private counselors experienced in dealing with victims of sexual abuse.

We don't know if there is a criminal investigation, but so far Dewell says no one has been charged. He also says there is no lawsuit right now, and that parents are concentrating on getting counseling for their children. Dewell won't say how many students are involved, but he did tell us they're from South Dakota. Investigators are not saying how far along any investigation is at this point.

By: Tom Powell

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