MARION COUNTY, Fla. – A former paraprofessional at Romeo Elementary School is accused of molesting a student and other girls in the classroom said they also endured his inappropriate behavior, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
Records show that on Nov. 20, a female student told a school employee that paraprofessional Juvenal Gomez, 57, had put his hand up her skirt to touch her inner thigh and then given her a blue “peso” -- a note students receive for good behavior -- with his name, phone number and “kitty” written on it.
The girl said she didn’t know what “kitty” meant.
The victim said she was in class when Gomez called her over and told her to sit across from him at a pear-shaped table and instructed her to read a passage. According to the affidavit, Gomez reached under the table and rubbed her inner thighs.
She said she felt his hand moving higher so she backed away from the table and stood up, at which point the substitute teacher told her to sit down because she was being disruptive, deputies said.
Records show Gomez touched the child’s thigh for a second time when she sat back down, so she kicked him.
Deputies said when the girl returned to her desk she found the “peso” and put it in her pocket, but one of her friends later ripped it up and threw it in the trash. It was recovered and turned over to authorities.
According to the affidavit, the girl said she didn’t normally wear skirts to class because she was afraid something like this would happen and now she’s afraid to wear them in the future. She said Gomez would give her “compliments” such as, “Oh, those pants make you look really good down there,” and telling her she looked “cute,” records show.
Deputies said they interviewed other girls in the classroom, six of whom said Gomez had made them feel uncomfortable in one way or another.
Records show one student said Gomez touched her inner thigh about 10 days after the semester started and he had touched her there and on her arms more than one time; another said Gomez would touch her on her shoulder; a third said Gomez touched her up and down her thigh over her clothing and would also touch her head down to her back; another said he tried to touch her ears, called her “baby” and tried to set up reading lessons at her home; a fifth said Gomez never touched her but did call her “mi amor” and made her feel as if he wanted “to do something with her;” and the final child said Gomez never touched her but she felt uncomfortable around him because “he looked at girls like he wanted to touch them.”
One of those girls said Gomez would touch her thigh about once a week and the another said she was afraid to wear dresses because she knew Gomez might touch her, deputies said.
One out of the seven girls interviewed said Gomez never targeted her but she did see him touch the victim’s thigh on Nov. 20, according to authorities.
Gomez was interviewed on Thursday and at that time he said he had been suspended and then terminated because a student said he rubbed her belly, records show. Details of that allegation were not provided in the report.
He claimed he gave the student the “peso” because she had kittens at home and he told her to give it to her mother, records show. He described the victim as a good child who did her work, helped others and didn’t have any disciplinary issues.
Deputies said he would only reply, “I don’t know” or, “I don’t remember” when he was asked about inappropriately touching the victim but he never denied the claims.
He was arrested Thursday on a charge of lewd and lascivious conduct.
Kevin Christian, the director of public relations and multimedia productions for Marion County Public Schools, said all teachers are required to report suspected abuse to law enforcement, which is what happened in this case.
“When this behavior was reported to an employee, immediate action was taken. The principal launched an investigation, the employee was suspended and the district subsequently fired the employee. Mandated trainings will continue for all district employees,” Christian said in an email.
He said resources will be made available to the students involved.
“These students, and all students, have school guidance counselors available, along with mental health professionals, to address fears, concerns, etc. We will provide whatever resources are needed to keep these students on track and learning in the classroom,” Christian said.
Gomez was hired in September 2020 and fired on Nov. 20, 2020. Christian said he was suspended when the first complaint came to light.
“While that complaint was uncorroborated, even by law enforcement’s investigation, we immediately fired this person when a second complaint was made,” he said.
He said any parent who is concerned their child may have been a victim should contact the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.