Wednesday, June 04, 2008

More Clarity in What Did (or Didn't) Happen At Broadview-Thompson

Some might say it's done but I give the Times credit for doing some actual investigating into how a child molesting teacher managed to stay on at Broadview-Thompson. I had some questions myself (and a few remain) but just so it's clear, what really happened is that some teachers were protecting this guy ( obviously unaware or not wanting to believe what they had heard or observed) and the principals who were there (not the current one Jeanne Smart) did not make note of complaints they received about him. There was no trail to follow because these principals, for whatever reason, did not note them in his file.

There are any number of reasons that someone might have a complaint against them that might not be justified including unhappy parent or co-worker. But every complaint should be filed and followed up because it would allow a better picture should something valid actually be happening. However, we find out from the article:

  • "teachers kept their concerns in-house, hewing to a school policy that says go to an administrator. Once passed along, their complaints almost always died, with no investigation, no discipline, no calls to outside investigators."
  • "Shannon McMinimee, the district's assistant general counsel, said teachers alarmed about a colleague should still go to their principal. If not satisfied, the teacher should call outside investigators. Mollie Boswell, one of the Broadview teachers, said in a deposition that training received since Hill's arrest left her as confused as ever. "I don't know what my obligation is," Boswell said, "and neither does Seattle Public Schools."
  • "Teachers who'd witnessed Hill's troubling behavior struggled with what to do. And, due to principals' lax documentation, their concerns weren't pieced together to reveal Hill for what he was." "A principal can document troubling incidents that don't equate to child abuse. But under the current teachers' contract, schools must destroy personnel files at the end of each year and start anew. Only records forwarded to the central office remain."
There's something to add to the list of things that the Board and the Superintendent need to do when renegotiating the teachers contracts next year: destroying schools' personnel files at the end of each year. Because otherwise, something has to be cranked up to the district level for it to stay there. I didn't know this.
  • Stewart Estes, an attorney who defended the district, said incidents reported to Skjei did not rise to the level that required reports to CPS. "Hand holding or rubbing the bald spot on your head is not sexual abuse and need not be reported," Estes said. Hey Stewart, did you ever hear of grooming? That's part of a pattern for a pedophile. "Last spring — in part, because of Hill — the school district expanded its training to help teachers spot grooming behavior and to clarify their duty to call CPS or police."
The district just now expanded teachers' training to spot grooming behavior? That's amazing.

And, one of the principals, the one who is most noted in this article, the one who did NOT note any complaints about the molesting teacher in his file (even though she got them) and the one who did not tell the new principal, Ms. Smart, anything about complaints even when Ms. Smart called her - she is now principal at View Ridge Elementary in Seattle and her name is Terri Skjei.

Her rationale or reasonings? "Skjei, in a deposition, said she did not recall, or was fuzzy about, warnings from von Haartman, Boswell, Koch and others. "I did my job to the best of my abilities at the time," she said."

Good luck, View Ridge. I would not want this woman anywhere near my kids if that's the best of her abilities.

One shining light is former principal at B-T, now principal at Olympic Hills, Zoe Jenkins. She did have her concerns and asked then-Superintendent John Stanford to transfer this teacher. Why?

"At Broadview, Hill (the teacher) worked to become indispensable. Name a school committee, he was on it. He fixed teachers' computers and ran the fifth-grade sleepaway camp. Parents cherished him, requesting his class more than any other."

But Hill ran afoul of one principal for, among other things, rewarding students with what he called "suck-up beads" for bringing him coffee or giving him backrubs.The principal, Zoe Jenkins, convinced then-Superintendent John Stanford in the spring of 1996 to transfer Hill. That, she believed, would rob Hill of his support among Broadview's parents and allow a new principal to "more carefully" supervise him.

But the proposed move was so controversial that Stanford was booed during a meeting with Broadview's PTA, and some of Hill's fellow teachers were up in arms. Jenkins asked for — and got — a transfer to another school; she is currently principal at Olympic Hills Elementary near Jackson Park.

Hill, however, never left Broadview. Stanford suggested to Jenkins' successor that she keep Hill to soothe relations with parents and staff. When Stanford returned to a Broadview PTA meeting in the fall of 1997, he was applauded, Jenkins' successor said.

The message to staff at Broadview was clear: Confronting Hill carried a cost."

And who bore that cost? These poor kids.

11 comments:

jp70 said...

Good luck, View Ridge. I would not want this woman anywhere near my kids if that's the best of her abilities.

Do you know her? How much do you know beyond what was in this article. Are VR parents bad people because they let their kids go to a school where she is present?

I remember reading about this case before my oldest even started VR and being concerned. I also agree that she should have done more and what happened to those children was awful. You can also bet I would have sued her and the district if it was my children who were victims.

At the same time, I believe people learn from their mistakes. I know it was a huge mistake, but she was new to the system and had a lot of pressure from the district due to the popularity of this teacher (you can read that much in the article).

I have absolutely ZERO worries that my children are protected at VR and that our principal would NEVER let something like this happen again.

And - it's not the best of her abilities - she's learned from her mistakes. Should she have been fired - I don't know enough to say that, but I do know that if she is at VR to stay, I am okay with it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

No, I don't know her. And I said nothing about VR parents; I said what I would do. There's a difference.

I do know that she was and is in a position where trust issues are huge. She had training about what to do in this situation and she did not do it. (Principals were trained, not teachers at that point which is what I think I'm understanding.)

She even told one complaining teacher to talk to the other teacher. That's leadership?

The district was willing to reassign this teacher, remember? The pressure came from the school, not the district.

A mistake? There's a mistake and there's a gross error in judgment and legally there's a difference. There is as well both ethically and morally.

Dorothy said...

I agree with Melissa on this one. Sure, she may have learned from her mistake and faced with exactly the same situation she may act differently next time. But the next situation will be slightly different, aren't they all?

This shows a lack of leadership, a lack of taking charge and having the imagination to believe credible adults and consider the possible consequences for the children if she did not act. That gut reaction, that integrity is not something that you get trained for, nor is it something you can learn, it is something in your soul. Not only would I not be happy having her be the principal of my child's elementary school, I wouldn't want to work for her either.

I just still cannot get over the fact that personnel records are destroyed every year. In what other occupation do adults get that as part of their job contract?

Ad Hoc said...

A mere mistake?? No I don't think so. A gross error in judgment might be a little closer? But truly I think it was more than that. I think she deliberately avoided dealing with a very serious complaint. A complaint that she was legally obligated to act on. She CHOSE to do nothing - and children suffered the consequences.

Child molestation is horrendous. People who know about it and turn the other cheek or who are told about it and do nothing, are just as culpable as the perpetrator.

This principal should not have been shuffled to another school. She should have been fired. What else will she make gross errors in judgment on?

Oh, well at least publicity brings about awareness. The teacher is in jail and the principal is being scrutinized (hopefully). And theres nothing better than a multi million dollar law suit against the district to bring about action!

classof75 said...

Ive had a problem with student records as well.
I requested my daughters records from her school, while she was still attending, because although she had an IEP, it wasn't being followed and I suspected information was being lost.
I cited all the forms that I wanted to see & they had hardly anything.
Very few forms had been sent to the district, those were held over- but the ones at the school had all been dumped.
The things that were in her file were meaningless.


Id like to see some consistent policies and no one I have spoken to has ever heard of personel files being purged every year, what if you received an award, wouldn't you want that in your file?

anne4610 said...

I am very interested in this story, and I agree with those who believe Terri Skjei demonstrated a gross lack of judgment and leadership in handling the Hill situation. My question to Melissa is this: What would you do if you had a child at VR now? You say you would not want your kids anywhere near Ms. Skjei. But what if your child was already enrolled? My child will be a kindergartener at VR in the fall -- my first experience with SPS. It is obviously too late to chose another school, and every school in this cluster is oversubscribed, so I can't exactly knock on the doors of the next closest school -- Bryant -- and ask that it admit my child. It's too late to chose a private school. (In fact, we applied to and were offered a spot at a private school we loved, but we declined in favor of giving our neighborhood public school a chance.) I am curious what you would do in my shoes. I would also love to hear from any VR parents who can speak to Ms. Skjei's leadership abilities while at VR.

jp70 said...

I would not be fearful of your child going to VR in the Fall. I too have a child entering Kindergarten in the Fall. I also have another older child already at VR.

There is obviously a lot of chatter going around at the school at this time due to this article. From what I have heard, this article really is one sided and does not show Ms. Skjei's side of the story. I have heard that Ms. Skjei did follow district standards/rules for the situation (at the time). She was also dismissed from the case early and not held liable in any way, as it was shown she followed all procedures. Since the case, SPS recognized their policies and procedures in place needed repair and they have since been changed. I have heard also that as a district employee she is not under the protection of the teacher's union and thus not at liberty to say much on the case.

Parents at VR are asking a lot of questions. Leaders of the PTA say nothing but positive things about all the work she does into making VR a great school. Lots of parents are unraveled and shocked by a lot said in the story.

I can say that I don't think you will find any families trying to transfer their kids because of this story even if they had the means. The parents at VR are asking questions and I expect we will hear something more in the next week or so. In the mean time, I have confidence that the school is not going to fall apart as a result of this nor are our kids in any kind of danger. Regardless of school or principal, I would still educate my children about inappropriate adult behavior and if my gut feels like something is not right, I will fight to get to the bottom of it and not just rely on the school system to figure things out.

We are extremely happy with the school and community. Parents aren't putting blinders on about this case, but at the same time they are not jumping ship and looking to transfer their children either.

Ad Hoc said...

Yes, Anne 34610, you are in a tough predicament, because you have very few options now. If I were you I would send my child to VR. It is a great school! But, I would talk to you child about inappropriate adult behaviors, volunteer in the classrooms, communicate with other parents, get to know the principal, go to PTA meeting, etc. In other words stay very connected and involved with the school. She will probably never make another mistake regarding inappropriate adult behavior again - in fact after a multi million dollar lawsuit and all of the negative publicity she will probably over react instead of under react. However, this still leaves a person with very very poor judgment at the helm of the school and there are a whole list of other concerns that I would have. I would watch to see how discipline issues are handled. How she manages the school budget. How she interacts with teachers and parents, and students, etc.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I find it hard to believe that there were no procedures in place at the time that would have required her to not document teacher concerns. But since none of us know for sure what she was required to do, we'll have to leave that out. (By the way, as a principal, she's likely part of PAS, the principals union, not the teachers union.)

We all know, morally and ethically, what she should have done.

What would I do? What I personally would do is ask her for a private meeting. I would tell her that I am deeply disturbed over what was in the newspaper (specifically the parts released in court documents). I would NOT ask her for any details on the case or what she did or did not do. She's not on trial.

What I would ask her is (1) what would you do now if a teacher or parent came to you with concerns over a teacher or member of staff's behavior with children? (2) what if that teacher or parents wanted to go to the police or CPS? and (3) what training has she received from the district and when?

If she was unwilling to talk about what she has been told by the district to do, I would pull my child out of VR. These are questions not related to the case and as a parent you have a right to know that the person in charge of everyone at the school and the person most in charge of the safety of every child in that school has sound judgment and has been properly trained.

VR is good school, I know this. But you are also putting your child in an elementary school for the longest part of their academic career. You better be able to believe in the principal's judgment in cases of safety.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I find it hard to believe that there were no procedures in place at the time that would have required her to not document teacher concerns. But since none of us know for sure what she was required to do, we'll have to leave that out. (By the way, as a principal, she's likely part of PAS, the principals union, not the teachers union.)

We all know, morally and ethically, what she should have done.

What would I do? What I personally would do is ask her for a private meeting. I would tell her that I am deeply disturbed over what was in the newspaper (specifically the parts released in court documents). I would NOT ask her for any details on the case or what she did or did not do. She's not on trial.

What I would ask her is (1) what would you do now if a teacher or parent came to you with concerns over a teacher or member of staff's behavior with children? (2) what if that teacher or parents wanted to go to the police or CPS? and (3) what training has she received from the district and when?

If she was unwilling to talk about what she has been told by the district to do, I would pull my child out of VR. These are questions not related to the case and as a parent you have a right to know that the person in charge of everyone at the school and the person most in charge of the safety of every child in that school has sound judgment and has been properly trained.

VR is good school, I know this. But you are also putting your child in an elementary school for the longest part of their academic career. You better be able to believe in the principal's judgment in cases of safety.

kbarker said...

It is not only the principal, but the parents, teachers, students, and the whole dynamic that makes this kind of situation, and can make it anywhere.
We had a situation at TOPS several years ago in which the vice principal wrote very bizarre personal letters to several students. (There was no physical sexual abuse. So this was by no means as critical situation as at VR- yet.)
The principal and district rep took 24 hours to decide there was no problem. The parents persisted, and when the district kept turning them aside, at the advice of Child Protective Services put several of the letters out in public view so parents could decide themselves. The school exploded. Some parents tried to get the letters out, others said that the principal should be obeyed and the letters should be igmored as it was a staff issue. Race, religion, homophobia were all dragged into this. Months later, and only after a school-wide petition was sent to the district, the vice-principal left. The school had many problems, none dealt with publicly- to speak of the problems was asking to be considered to be a troublemaker.
It was hard to know what the right thing to do is. But when there are no protocols in place to investigate and deal with problems, and when the culture of the school and the district is pretend problems don't exist, the fate of each school and the students will always be a bit more up to chance than any of us want to believe.