NEW YORK (AP) _ A 9-year-old girl's terrible secret finally came to light in a school essay. And the school kept it a secret.

''I know what it's like to be raped ... My father raped me,'' the fourth- grader said in a Feb. 14, 1992, essay about Mike Tyson's rape trial.

No one at the school in East Harlem called the police or the state child- abuse hot line.

Investigators said the principal was out that day and the teacher locked the essay away. Ten days later, after a midterm break, he handed the essay over to the principal, who appears to have delayed passing it along to the school's medical office for 16 days.

By that time, the child had confided in her grandmother, who found help.

The father, who confessed, was awaiting trial last June when he died of AIDS. The prosecutor later determined that the girl was raped at age 6 and probably was abused at other times, too. She has tested negative for the AIDS virus.

The public schools' special commissioner of investigation said in a report Thursday that the girl's despair prompted bungling and buck-passing at the school.

''This is a child's cry for help: When a child summons the courage to make that cry, someone has got to be there to hear it,'' Ed Stancik said.

It started with a classroom assignment: Write about a famous black athlete in celebration of Black History Month. The girl wrote about Tyson, who at the time was on trial for rape.

The exact contents of the essay ''will always remain a mystery,'' Stancik said. The child ripped up the original and the school's copies vanished.

The report said the assistant principal, Luz Rosenthal, read the essay, ''gasped and thrust it back'' at the teacher, Stan Collymore. When the principal, Jacqueline Bussey, saw it, she said she'd ask the medical office ''to see if it was fact or fiction.'' It appears she didn't do so until March 12.

On March 1, the child confided in her grandmother. The next day, the grandmother confronted her son, who confessed. She waited until March 12 to contact an AIDS task force, which called the hot line.

At some point, a school physician's assistant, Mary Pegues, confirmed the rape; it never occurred to her to call the hotline. The principal assumed she had done so. The school had designated a part-time guidance counselor to report child abuse; that person was never notified.

The report recommended disciplining Bussey, normally known as a ''caring and talented educator,'' for her ''shocking lack of care'' in this case. It said Collymore should be ''officially reminded of his obligations.''

There was no immediate response this morning to messages left at the school seeking comment from Collymore and Bussey.