The U.S. Department of Justice is flexing its jurisdiction over the Allentown School District in an effort to make things safer for students.
The Allentown School District recently settled a lawsuit involving several former Central Elementary students who were allegedly repeatedly sexually abused by another student in 2003 and 2004.
In July 2009, the department intervened in a lawsuit filed by several of those students against the district and conducted an extensive investigation.
"The sexual assault of students in elementary schools cannot be tolerated. It must be stopped," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division. "The impact on the educational experience and life of a young child is devastating."
Now, the Department of Justice and the school district are coming together to ensure history doesn't repeat itself.
"Unfortunately, sexual harassment is an issue children and young adults have had to deal with," said Marisol Velez, the mother of an Allentown student.
The Justice Department found the school district didn't have proper procedures in place to deal with the repeated alleged sexual assaults at Central, saying "had the district adopted and implemented such polices and procedures, the district would have prevented the continued sexual assaults of students."
"I'm very dumbfounded by the whole thing as far as not doing anything because putting a lot of kids in jeopardy," said Wayne Carson, the grandfather of a 5th grade student.
Russ Mayo, the superintendent of Allentown schools, told 69 News "our highest priority is to protect kids."
Mayo also said the district does have policies in place but admitted they need to be better ingrained in school culture. The federal government plans to do that.
For a minimum of three years, a consultant will work with the district to strengthen the policies, including providing training to administrators, faculty, staff, students and parents; creating procedures to identify, monitor and supervise students with a history of sexual harassment toward other students; and implementing policies and procedures for communicating with outside agencies like the police.
It's a welcome step in the right direction for Carson.
"I think it's good if the Justice Department steps into it," he said. "If you don't do anything about it, you're part of the problem, not the solution.
The three-year timeline is only to better ingrain the policies, said Mayo, adding that the district has been working with the Justice Department since April.