Viewpoint: Rape suspect treated too lightly?

An Albany teenager suspected of raping a girl on school property not only remains in class, but is staring on his school's football team.

Last week, a grand jury indicted Westover High School student, 16-year-old Shannon Saunders for rape. He's accused of assaulting a 15-year-old girl in the school's auditorium last May at a time when school was not in session.

The girl suffered injuries and reported the attack immediately and Saunders was arrested.

He was suspended at the beginning of this school year pending a tribunal hearing, and the principal tells us Saunders was held out of the first four football games as he waited for that hearing.

But the tribunal, made up of retired administrators, decided they should take no action against Saunders until his criminal case was settled. He was allowed back in school and back on the football team.

We should point out that Saunders says he is innocent, and in criminal court he is innocent until proven guilty. The school system does not have to rely on that level of proof. Students who proclaim their innocence are routinely treated much more harshly for much less serious offenses.

Prosecutors believe they can convict him as an adult of a horrible crime. Even if they can't, there's certainly plenty of evidence that Saunders seriously violated school rules that should result in harsh school punishment.

Plain and simple, a student indicted for rape has no business walking the halls with other students or representing his school in athletic competition. The tribunal shirked their responsibility by not taking action to protect other students. It's not too late to act now before a jury does their job for them.

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