Robert Gasparello has no shortage of supporters among parents and students who credit him with turning around Sharpstown, which is why so many people are stunned he's accused of failing to report child abuse. It's a misdemeanor, but one with which he's been charged.
"It doesn't matter if you're the principal or a janitor or a teacher or a neighbor," said Harris County DA Devon Anderson.
Texas law requires professionals to make a verbal report of suspected child abuse within 48 hours. Reporting to a superior doesn't count.
Gasparello has hired prominent defense attorney Rusty Hardin to represent him. In a written statement Tuesday, Hardin wrote:
- "Mr. Gasparello is widely regarded and revered both by educators and parents of children in his school as an outstanding principal who has performed superbly at Sharpstown High School. Everyone who knows him, and has observed him, knows that his first priority has always been the safety and well-being of his students.
It is extremely unfair and unfortunate that he faces misdemeanor charges for allegedly not reporting possible abuse. That paints him in a false light. He in fact conscientiously looked into the two incidents and took swift action.
In one instance, he immediately informed the mother of a young woman who said she was assaulted off-campus by a family member and made sure the mother and victim reported this to police. It was reported to HPD within four hours of Mr. Gasparello learning of the incident. He also got the student to counseling to support her.
In the other matter, Mr. Gasparello immediately took steps to make sure the teacher in question was not alone with students, had another adult in the room and swiftly began to investigate the allegations. He reported the students' allegations to their parents as soon as he and his staff could reach them and he quickly got the students to counseling support. When he had some idea of the facts involved, he reported these cases to his superiors within roughly 72 hours with the belief they would notify law enforcement.
The spirit of this law was to be used against people who hide abuse allegations – not against people who take them seriously and act immediately like Mr. Gasparello did. I pray that the public and law enforcement will not use this application of the law to blindly smear the good name of a caring and careful educator who is exactly the kind of person we need in our schools. I also pray that we do not handle this matter in a way that discourages other quality teachers and educators like Mr. Gasparello from taking on the myriad problems confronting our schools today."
"I'm sure his intentions were good but he has to follow the law," said KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy. "There are a lot of people in jail with good intentions that maybe followed the spirit of the law. But if you don't follow the law, you can go to jail."
An assistant principal and school counselor are charged with the same misdemeanor. Gasparello has been assigned to another role off campus until the case is decided.
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