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Opening Statements Thursday In Charter School Sex Assault Case

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Jury selection wrapped up Wednesday afternoon and opening statements are scheduled to begin Thursday in the sexual abuse case of a child whose family has sued his former South Florida charter school where the alleged abuse took place by an older student.

A lawsuit was filed against The Downtown Miami Charter School in July of 2012 after school administrators reportedly failed to take action after learning that a 7-year-old student had been bullied and sexually assaulted by an older classmate to the point where he attempted suicide.

According to the lawsuit, the second grader was being bullied on the school bus, operated by Carmen Alvarez Bus Service, a private school bus company.  The boy told his mother about the bullying, and she spoke to the bus driver. The bullying continued however, according to the lawsuit, and in November, 2011, the fifth grader allegedly forced the younger boy to perform a sex act on him on the school bus.

During jury selection Wednesday, attorney Todd Ehrenreich, representing Charter Schools USA, told the panel he will show the claims of the second grader are all lies, a total fabrication from the mind of a seven-year-old.

According to a police report, the boy said he was forced to perform oral sex on the classmate, "J.R.," who warned him,"If you don't do this, I'm gonna hurt you," the report states.

The boy's mother contacted Rebecca Dinda, principal of the Downtown Miami Charter School.  Dinda notified DCF and the police. The lawsuit alleges that the principal assured the mother the two boys would be separated and closely monitored.  But the attorney for the boy's mother, Jeffrey Herman, said the bullying and threats continued, followed by a second sexual assault in a school restroom.

"What happened to my son is terrible, and no parent or child should ever have to face what I faced," the boy's mother said at the time the suit was filed. "They failed. They failed to give my son proper protection."

The younger boy's mother said her son, "John Doe", attempted suicide twice after that, once by throwing himself into a moving lane of traffic and again by sticking a metal wire clothes hanger into an electric socket. His mother said he started taking psychological medications, has frequent difficulty sleeping and making friends and will likely undergo therapy for years.

The Miami police department's special victims unit was unable to gather adequate evidence to bring a charge in the alleged school bus attack.

Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA Inc., operator of the school, said in a statement in 2012 that it could not comment directly on the lawsuit's allegations but added that "student safety and security are among our highest priorities." The lawsuit also named the bus service and driver as defendants.

Opening statements are set for Thursday morning.

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