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Former school staffer sentenced to 16 years for sexually assaulting a student. Girl’s mother sues Hernando School Board.

BROOKSVILLE — A Fox Chapel Middle School staffer who sexually battered a female student multiple times last year at the school was sentenced in March to 16 years in prison. The girl’s mother has sued the Hernando County School Board for negligence.

Marcus Gerard Wells, 35, of Spring Hill, was arrested in May 2017, after Hernando Sheriff’s Office deputies said he abused the student eight times over a two-week span in the in-school suspension room, where he worked as a monitor. He originally faced four counts of sexual battery of a victim 12 to 18 years old by a person in custodial authority, but took a plea deal and was charged with only one count on March 26, court records show.

Stacey Cross, the student’s mother, filed suit against the School Board on April 5, alleging that because the abuse happened on school property and was perpetrated by a district employee, the board holds some responsibility for what happened.

"Hernando County School Board had a duty to reasonably supervise (the student)," the lawsuit states, listing multiple missteps on the part of the school system, including "negligently failing to intercede in the ongoing sexual assaults of which (the student) was a victim when (the board) knew or should have known of the misconduct."

The lawsuit says the board should never have let Wells be alone with the girl, because it "owed a duty to provide a safe environment."

Since the incidents, which happened during school hours May 8-19, 2017, the student has suffered permanent or continuing injuries and pain, both physical and mental, the lawsuit said. She required medical treatment and experienced "loss of ability to lead and enjoy a normal life."

The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages.

As of Monday, the superintendent had not notified any of the district’s five School Board members — or their attorney Dennis Alfonso — that they are being sued.

The court summons were served April 24 to Andrew Klang, a switchboard operator at the school district office. Klang told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday he did not remember the particulars of that afternoon, but that normally he signs for official documents and places them in the addressee’s mailbox.

The summons were addressed to Superintendent Lori Romano, who was in a school board meeting at the time of delivery, court records show. She declined to be interviewed by the Times for this story.

District spokeswoman Karen Jordan said Monday "it is (the district’s) long-standing process that the board’s secretary is the point person and directs all legal documents to the correct party, including the school board." But board secretary Kelly Pogue told the Times Monday she had not been notified of the lawsuit by Romano, and therefore could not inform board members.

"It seems like that is something we should know," said board member Linda Prescott.

Wells was hired by the school district in 2009 and worked custodial and maintenance jobs until becoming an in-school suspension monitor in 2015, according to district records.

This arrest was Wells’ first in Florida, state law enforcement records show.

Twice in 2012, when Wells was a janitor, he was reprimanded for violating School Board policy — once for leaving work when he should have been there, and a second time when multiple people complained about his "performance neglect." He got a verbal warning for clocking in late the following year, when district records show he was a maintenance helper.

When working as an suspension monitor and athletic coach at Fox Chapel in June 2016, Wells was found to have stolen $285 in student activity fees, according to an employee conference report. Four months later, records show, he was reprimanded for forcibly removing a student from class.

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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