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The Petaluma Police Department declined to discuss what, if any, action it took in response to a report of alleged sexual assault involving the valedictorian at Petaluma High School, citing privacy laws.

The department said it is prevented from answering key questions that would shed light on the growing controversy over allegations made by Lulabel Seitz, a 17-year-old Petaluma High School graduate headed to Stanford University, who said she was sexually assaulted on campus by a peer.

Seitz said her friends reported the incidents to a school counselor. School officials said the allegations were “thoroughly investigated by law enforcement as well as by the staff.”

Seitz’s mic was cut at a June 2 graduation when she deviated from a script submitted to school officials to express frustration over what she viewed as a lack of action taken by the administration. A national spotlight has since been cast on the school, and community members slammed the board of education Tuesday over the handling of reported sexual assaults and the decision by school officials to silence Seitz during her speech.

Petaluma Police Chief Ken Savano said the safety of students is of “paramount concern for us as well as the school district.”

“Crimes reported that occur on school campuses are investigated to the fullest extent and we take action when it’s appropriate,” he said. “We are restricted by law as to what we can and can’t acknowledge and release.”

Lt. Tim Lyons said he could not respond to questions about Seitz’s allegations, including the nature of the alleged sexual assault, if it involved a peer or a teacher, how many times the alleged behavior occurred or if there were subsequent arrests or convictions.

Lyons said he couldn’t even confirm or acknowledge the school district reported the allegations. He cited a government code that precludes the disclosure of records of complaints or investigations, other than certain details, such as times and locations and names of involved parties. He then cited a state welfare and institutions code that says case files involving juveniles are confidential, and can be inspected only by attorneys, the involved minor and that minor’s parents, and other privileged parties, such as officials at the juvenile’s school or child protective agencies.

“Police reports are exempt from disclosure in accordance with the government code, except for certain specified information, and reports involving a person under the age of 18 can’t be released,” he said.

Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Anne Masterson said the state welfare and institution code similarly preluded her from being able to confirm or acknowledge if a report was received by her agency.

Robert Gallup, a Petaluma resident whose 17-year-old granddaughter graduated from Casa Grande High School this year and whose 13-year-old grandson is a student at Kenilworth Junior High, was critical of law enforcement’s response. The 73-year-old described himself as a survivor of childhood sexual assault.

“What it does for a person that’s been a victim is it kind of causes an experience of a re-victimizing at the emotional level,” he said of Petaluma police’s response. “It’s not being heard, it’s not being seen, it’s a sense of a dark black wall and a lack of caring.”

Victoria Coon, who is a parent of a student at McKinley Elementary School, said she understands the need to protect minors.

“I think that is probably designed to protect both Lulabel and the young man, because if they reveal where they are in an investigation or if they are or aren’t investigating, I just think that’s something that police should discuss first and foremost with Lulabel and her family,” she said.

Lisa Consani, whose daughter is a sophomore at Petaluma High School, said she doesn’t “need to have the police confirm anything,” about Seitz’s account.

“I think that having our youth find their voices and be able to speak out about these things that happened should be enough to take them at face value,” she said, urging the district to utilize an independent review agency to look into policies and sexual assaults.

The school district handles each sexual assault complaint by first reporting it to local law enforcement. The school follows up on a case-by-case basis according to state education codes, assistant superintendent of student services Dave Rose said this week.

Petaluma High School Principal David Stirrat referred questions about specifics on policy implementation, and how the district balances issues of student confidentiality and the public’s desire to understand the investigation process, to Rose. Superintendent Gary Callahan also referred inquires to Rose, who did not return multiple requests for comment Thursday.

The Press Democrat requested data about the number of sexual assaults the district has reported to the police department in the past five years. That information was not available from the Police Department or the school district Thursday.

You can reach Staff Writer Hannah Beausang at 707-521-5214.

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