Two members of the leadership team at a charter school in Treme were arrested Tuesday on allegations they failed to alert authorities about their discovery of video clips allegedly showing a student being forced to perform oral sex on a group of her peers in a bathroom on campus earlier this year.
The school includes kindergarten through eighth grade.
New Orleans police booked Nicole Kusmirek, the second-in-command at Success Preparatory Academy, and Shayla Shane — listed as the school's director of culture — on counts of possessing child pornography as well as failing to report child abuse despite being required to do so as educators.
Both posted bail Tuesday night for their release from jail in connection with an incident first reported more than four months ago. Kusmirek's bail was set at $2,500; Shane's was $5,000 because she is also accused of obstruction of justice.
An attorney for both women, Nandi Campbell, said she believes her clients' actions during the case actually prevented children from being able to go on social media and share a video of the incident. She said there was no indication Kusmirek and Shane had been under criminal investigation and that they were blindsided by the decision to arrest them.
"For NOPD to charge these teachers with possession of pornography is the most obscene thing I've seen since I've been doing this work," said Campbell, adding that both women came to New Orleans several years ago as part of the Teach for America program. "It's a declaration of war on teachers who are on the front lines of the school-to-prison pipeline we see in this city."
Success Principal Niloy Gangopadhyay said in a statement Wednesday that his school stands behind both Kusmirek and Shane and he doesn't believe there was any "criminal intent or action on their part."
"In our opinion, they took appropriate action and protected the interests of our school and the safety of those students," Gangopadhyay said, adding that an internal investigation found no violations of procedure.
He said the school could not release any information about the students, whom he described as former pupils.
According to court documents, school officials notified the victim's mother April 25 that her daughter had performed oral sex on at least three boys. The girl later that day wrote a letter explaining she had gone to the bathroom to meet one boy and was instead met by a group of boys, one of whom told her, "You can't leave until you give us all" oral sex.
The girl said she tried to leave but was blocked from doing so. She said she "succumbed to peer pressure" and performed oral sex on the boys, one of whom recorded the incident with a cellphone.
The girl's mother told police she went to the school on April 26 but could not get "accurate information" or the names of students and staff involved.
The mother told police she ultimately spoke with Shane, who described seeing the footage, emailing it to herself and deleting it from the phone of the boy who had recorded it before giving the phone back to him. Shane, 27, also said she had sent the footage to Kusmirek, 32, according to the mother.
The mother also said a male teacher told her he entered the bathroom, saw the students looking at the footage and confiscated the phone. The mother said she understood there were up to four clips of the incident and called police on April 27.
Two police detectives then met with Gangopadhyay and an attorney representing the school. The principal's statement is not laid out clearly in court documents, but police said he had been informed of the matter by Shane and Kusmirek.
He mentioned that it appeared five students had been in the restroom during the incident. The video clips suggested the girl and three boys were involved. Gangopadhyay could identify only one boy and couldn't tell who recorded the clips, according to court documents.
The principal said his staff learned of the footage when students in another bathroom were caught watching the video; he said it was Shane who discovered what the students were viewing. The school sent all of the students home and their parents were told what had occurred, Gangopadhyay said, according to police.
The portion of Gangopadhyay's statement that is included in court documents did not address a claim made by the girl that he entered the bathroom during the incident. She allegedly said "the principal" entered the bathroom and she stood on a toilet to hide, waiting for the coast to clear before leaving "like nothing happened," according to court records.
Police secured arrest warrants for Shane and Kusmirek on Sept. 25, alleging they unlawfully possessed child pornography and failed to contact either state family services officials or police about the incident. Under state law, any teacher, in a public or private school, must alert authorities when they have information suggesting a child might have been sexually abused.
The two women turned themselves in Tuesday and were behind bars for several hours before their release.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Henn on Wednesday indicated in court that he would be seeking a higher bail for Shane and Kusmirek given the nature of the allegations.
It was not clear whether any of the boys at the center of the case have been booked with crimes. It does not appear that any other adults have been booked.
Without elaborating, Gangopadhyay said the school has reviewed its safety and security protocols since the April incident and that there has been no disruption to operations on campus.
Gangopadhyay later Wednesday sent a letter to parents containing his statement. The letter asked the parents to continue supporting his "staff and students in the important work of teaching and learning that takes place at Success every day."
State education officials gave Success a C grade for 2015-16. Founded in 2008, it has about 480 students, most of whom are considered economically disadvantaged.