School discipline comes to light after arrest

A horrific crime in New Hampshire has cast a harsh light on the North Andover school district where a victim of sexual assault was warned to avoid her attacker and even to stay off of Main Street in front of the high school.

On February 17, 18-year-old Eliezer Tuttle picked up someone he had met at the Mall at Rockingham Park, but rather than going to a restaurant in Salem, New Hampshire, that afternoon, as they had planned, he pinned her down in the back seat of his car where he allegedly forcibly raped her. Then Tuttle took her to a movie theater in Epping, New Hampshire, where he allegedly attacked her again.

Tuttle, who has been held in New Hampshire, was involved in a similar incident with a very different outcome less than a year earlier in North Andover, where he was a high school student and an athlete on the wrestling and track and field teams.

Breanna Edelstein, a reporter at the Eagle-Tribune, got the scoop after the alleged victim in the earlier incident read the news of Tuttle’s arrest in New Hampshire.

The first incident occurred on April 2, 2018. A high school classmate of Tuttle’s went out driving with him, and then fought him off when Tuttle allegedly tried to take off her clothes and violate her. After taking her to her home, Tuttle tried to ensure that she wouldn’t tell anyone about what happened, but she told school officials anyway, and Tuttle was arrested.

The week after the alleged attack, the victim signed an agreement with a school administrator barring her from “any avoidable contact or communication” with Tuttle, instructing her to travel her “normal pattern” to class, and requiring her to report any contact with Tuttle to administrators. Any violation of the so-called safety plan “will result in school discipline,” the agreement said.

Sometime later in the year, the victim began attending Scarlett Knight Academy, which is part of the North Andover public school system and offers evening classes as an alternative to traditional high school. She signed an even more restrictive agreement with an administrator there. This new agreement, signed on December 5, barred the victim from Main Street in front of the high school and from the area of the gymnasium where she was not to travel nor loiter. The new agreement carried the same warning of school discipline.

It’s hard to say how often those types of safety plan agreements are employed. North Andover Superintendent Gregg Gilligan would not answer the Eagle-Tribune’s questions about how the school handled the incident.

In between the two safety plans, the juvenile court, which has secret proceedings to protect the privacy of minors, had apparently reached some type of conclusion because Tuttle had been on probation since November. The case was continued without a finding until Tuttle turns 19, according to an update the victim received from prosecutors.

Although a crime victim will often have many reasons to want to avoid an attacker, courts typically impose restrictions on the perpetrator, not the victim. Indeed, in the North Andover case, the victim obtained restraining orders against the victim that are still active. The school re-assigned Tuttle, who also signed a safety plan, according to a letter from the assistant principal, Brooke Randall, to the victim’s mother, which does not identify Tuttle by name. Tuttle appears to have wrestled for at least part of last season, according to the Eagle-Tribune’s sports pages.

Schools have different responsibilities and greater powers than authorities in other areas of society. Public schools have a duty to maintain order within their halls and classrooms and to educate every eligible student they can. Massachusetts policymakers have in recent years tried to avoid saddling youths with criminal records even when they could be charged with a crime.

Still, it is striking that so soon after the victim-empowering “Time’s Up” and “Me Too” movements, the school administration in North Andover would dictate how one of its students can walk to and from class apparently because of the allegations of violent assault she made against one of her classmates.

–ANDY METZGER


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