School CEO ‘heartbroken’ over sex crime allegations at school

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The CEO of the company that manages River City Scholars Charter Academy in Grand Rapids has promised to take action following allegations that two students were victimized by a strange predator inside their school.

The incident took place shortly after 8 a.m. on Feb. 2 when police say Jalen Harris, 22, entered the school and convinced a student to come into a room with him so he could check her pant size. After taking the girl’s pants off, police say Harris touched her thigh before she left the room and told an adult.

Then, police say, Harris tried to do it again. He’s accused of approaching another girl and convincing her to go into a room with him. That girl got away before anything else happened, investigators said.

River City Scholars is run by National Heritage Academies, a Kentwood company that charters 81 schools in nine states.

NHA CEO Harry “Chip” Hurlburt told 24 Hour News 8 he’s responding to what happened at River City Scholars.>>Jail interview: Suspect says kid victims are ‘lying’

“I personally am heartbroken that this bad guy — despite multiple layers of security — was able to get into one of our buildings,” Hurlburt said in a Friday afternoon interview. “Our focus is on identifying how our procedures can be better, how they can be improved in insuring that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”

The school system agreed to allow an interview with Hurlburt more than a week after the incident and after days of pressing by 24 Hour News 8. Hurlburt said that is because he was focused on making sure students were safe, communicating with parents and cooperating with police.

Hurlburt said he has not contacted the victims’ families and did not attend a meeting at the school for parents following the incident. He says he left those responsibilities up to the building principal who has a relationship with the families at the school.

“Parents obviously want to know that our staff are doing everything that they can to ensure that their students are safe,” he said. “We have undertaken an external review and brought in outsiders to help review all of our practices, all of our procedures and where we can continue to improve our systems.”

Harris denied the allegations at River City Scholars in an interview with 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday.

“I believe it’s a big misunderstanding,” Harris said during the interview.

Harris claims the confusion arose after he simply went to the wrong school when attempting to relay a message to his cousin.

Grand Rapids police put out a plea for any other victims to come forward Thursday — the same day they filed a new case against Harris when another victim came forward claiming he molested her in an incident not related to the school case.

At River City Scholars, Hurlburt said they’re using what happened as a lesson for all of their schools and hopes other school officials will learn from it as well.

“Folks need to be vigilant. They need to be vigilant. They need to ask questions. They need to be not afraid to ask somebody ‘Do you belong here?'” Hurlburt said. “Bad things can happen despite the efforts of really good people.”

The school held a meeting with parents Monday and continues to field calls from parents who are wondering about what happened and the safety of their students.

“This could happen to any school,” Hurlburt said. “We clearly have to make changes from a process and procedures perspective to ensure that bad guys can’t get into our school buildings and we’re going to work very hard to do that. That’s my primary focus.”

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