A federal judge says a lawsuit can proceed on allegations that negligence by school officials led to the sexual assaults on four boys at an elementary school.

The $15 million suit, on behalf of three of the first-grade boys and their parents, alleges that Allentown School District employees failed to investigate or remove the 12-year-old boy who committed the assaults over four months beginning in December 2003.

The 12-year-old, a special education student, was found guilty in juvenile court of rape and was sent to a detention center until he turns 18.

U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Golden denied the district's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

In his ruling dated Friday and released Monday, Golden said the U.S. Constitution's due process clause does not require school officials to protect students from "violence at the hands of a private actor."

However, he said the school could be found liable if officials took actions that made Central Elementary more dangerous. He said the plaintiffs' attorneys "must focus on discovering what actions the defendants took, rather than on what actions they failed to take," for the suit to succeed.

Blake Rush, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said Golden allowed the most important, potentially damaging claim of "state-created danger" to proceed.

John Freund, the school district solicitor, predicted the lawsuit will eventually be dismissed.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court because Pennsylvania law generally bars negligence suits against municipal governments, including school districts.