Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lowell Lockdown Incident Raises Some Questions

Earlier today this happened (this from SPS Office of Public Affairs):

Today, a group of fourth-grade students from Lowell Elementary on Capitol Hill went on a field trip that involved walking to and from Cal Anderson Park, where they went ice skating. The students were accompanied by teachers and parents. As the group was returning from the field trip, at approximately 3 p.m., Lowell staff learned that one of the parents might be a criminal suspect wanted by police. A teacher at the school called 9-1-1.

When the students returned from the field trip, they were escorted inside the school and the Lowell Elementary principal placed the school on lockdown to ensure the safety of all Lowell students. The suspect did not enter the school. When police arrived, the suspect fled the scene.

Students were allowed to leave the school after being escorted onto buses, or if they were picked up by their parents, but the remaining students stayed at the school under lockdown until police determined the suspect was no longer in the area. At that point, after roughly 90 minutes, the lockdown on the school was lifted and students were allowed to leave.

All students are safe, and Principal Gregory King commended staff and family members for their quick response and calm actions.

The safety and security of our students and staff is a primary concern. Each Seattle school is expected to conduct a WATCH (Washington Access to Criminal History) check on all parent volunteers. It appears that there was a miscommunication in the building today. The parent was not cleared to chaperone.

We are conducting an investigation into how this parent was allowed to participate in the field trip. 

According to KOMO-tv,  the parent who spotted him works for the Department of Corrections.  Scary:

Investigators believe the parent spotted Donald Vasser, who is considered armed and dangerous. The DOC issued an arrest warrant for Vasser on Nov. 28 when his community corrections officer found alcohol in his home -- a violation of his community supervision.

Vasser's criminal record includes nine prior felonies, eight of which are drug-related. He was released in February 2011 after serving five years for a drug conviction.

It is unclear what "not cleared to chaperone" meant.  Did he go through the volunteer process and they found his multiple felonies?  A worry for every school.

22 comments:

A concerned parent said...

How sad for the kid.

Anonymous said...

In 3 days Seattle Schools once again had 3 top headlines for district mess ups...
>the whole vending machine debacle, where the district never paid ASB back,
>the downtown HQ lack of fund tracking
>America's Most Wanted as chaperone

Today's outrage and the Vending Machine story are national headlines.

I swear I'm going to give up on this district. I really am. I get messages from OUT OF STATE people, for god's sake, aghast at the reputation of SPS. Enough.

disgusted and disillusioned

dan dempsey said...

Dear disgusted and disillusioned,

Another so what list as far as any change in direction goes.... Watch how many will still clamor for more Enfield and talk about improvement.

Remember the constant barrage of bad news during the weeks before Board elections. Yet two incumbents returned to office.

Your list really only has one major item ... the $54 million deficit at JSCEE .... small potatoes on the SPS bad news scale.

I do not think the Lowell incident is one of huge district neglect.... How big an investigative process are field trip chaperones to undergo? ... just asking.

emeraldkity said...

I agree very sad for the kid- but I also have to notice that charges were all drug related- not violent- & he did turn himself in.

I know of few schools that keep good track of volunteer/chaperones- perhaps this will give them impetus to do so.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying convicted felons should be around alot of young schoolchildren, but doesn't it say something that this father wanted to support his child and school by volunteering? That is a caring person.

What a messed up world

dj said...

Unless you are going to update your background check the morning of a field trip, you are not going to know about new warrants a parent picks up.

Anonymous said...

The story is now the top headline on msnbc.com. Our district is a national horror show.

Disgusted Too

dw said...

I'm not saying convicted felons should be around alot of young schoolchildren, but doesn't it say something that this father wanted to support his child and school by volunteering?

Exactly what I was thinking. I'm not saying the guy is a good person overall, nor that he should be chaperoning an elementary school field trip, but there are a lot of kids without even one parent around that cares enough to try to spend time like that with their kid. It's just a sad situation, especially for the kid.

Emeraldkity said: notice that charges were all drug related- not violent- & he did turn himself in.

The Q13 report called him: high-violent offender and dangerous gang member wanted in King County -- boasting over 20 arrests and convictions, including obstructing law enforcement, assaulting an officer, burglary and harassment.

And the KIRO report called him: hardened, violent criminal

So I'm not sure where you found your info, but it definitely doesn't agree with their reports. I do agree that it's worth noting that he did turn himself in without issue, and iirc from reading last night that his current warrant was for not checking in.

dw said...

Actually, it looks like his probation violation was having alcohol in his fridge (although I do remember reading something about him not checking in with his parole officer).

While it sounds like a relatively benign violation, we have no idea if he is a person that becomes violent after drinking. And no way to know if he used the bottle to gain courage to join up on the field trip.

Not to disparage this man, but there are many unknowns, and if having possession of alcohol is a violation of his probation, it sounds like that is a significant problem in his life.

I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more details in the coming weeks, given the widespread media coverage.

someone said...

He is known to use a number of aliases - could well be a background check WAS done, but not on his real name. And please, Kiro is not the most accurate of news sources, and loves to use language that implies much more "drama" than reality.
It's fairly easy to check this stuff for yourself - he does have 9 felonies - all are on drug related charges. The "violent" part was all directed at police - so I seriously doubt there was any danger to the kids here - which doesn't excuse anything - I just think it got blown a bit out of proportion to the situation at hand.

dj said...

Dw, "no alcohol" is a pretty standard community supervision provision, or at least it was when I was in practice.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Emerald, he was known to carry a gun. Not exactly non-violent. He's a felon. I'm not sure it was blown out of proportion.

What if he had a gun and had seen an old enemy while on the field trip? Still a good idea to have him around?

dw said...

Mel said: What if he had a gun and had seen an old enemy while on the field trip? Still a good idea to have him around?

Yes, this kind of thing was on my worry list as well. As much as I like the fact that he wanted to spend time with his kid, there are huge worries. Even if we believed he's completely turned a new leaf, when you're in (or were in) a gang you bring danger to anyone around you.

dj said: Dw, "no alcohol" is a pretty standard community supervision provision, or at least it was when I was in practice.

Got it. So it might be a big problem, or not, we really don't know. Thanks for the info.

someone said...

Off topic but fyi: Silas Potter has pled not guilty today

Key Figure in Seattle Schools Scandal Pleads Not Guilty

Anonymous said...

This is from pg 44 of the Seattle Public Schools Volunteer Services Manual (dated 2003, so it's not clear if it's the most current):

What if the person has a criminal history?

Having a criminal history does not automatically mean a person cannot volunteer. It does, however, call for more information and a more substantial screening process. It is important that the person is upfront, either in conversation or on their Screening Form, about their criminal history before we “discover” it on our own.

Generally, if someone has a criminal history involving crimes against children, they should not be working with our students. In those cases, we recommend that you inform them over the phone or by other means that are not face-to-face or else that you are in the presence another appropriate staff person.

If the offenses are not crimes against children, the Principal will need to decide if this person is safe to work with our students. This can depend on the nature of the crime, how long ago it took place, what the person has done since then, checks with references, and the school’s ability to provide a level of supervision that decreases the risk this person might pose to our students. Currently there are not district guidelines addressing this issue. Judgment is left up to the principal. In cases that warrant more information on liability issues, the principal can contact the Seattle Schools General Counsel Office.


I was under the assumption that felony convictions would preclude a parent from volunteering directly with students, but the manual suggests otherwise. Pretty surprising.

FYI

Anonymous said...

Felony can be theft over $500 in some states, violation of new Alabama immigration law is a class C felony ( a problem for utilities, so now they check status), so can lying to a grand jury. What happens if it is years ago, and you did your time, rehabilitated and now a contributing member of society? Is the law equal for all at all times. Who gets charge with a felony and who gets to plead down?

Sometimes easy to do justice, harder to do right

Anonymous said...

Not to be too hyperbolic here, and acknowledging that Harris-Moore has not been accused of carrying a weapon (as far as I know), but contrast the ST front page story about the "Barefoot Bandit" versus the "Lowell Chaperone". Do we think high-powered attorney John Brown would be representing the latter and trying to earn sympathy because of his "hard life"?

Just looking for balance here

Anonymous said...

when the district stopped funding counselors centrally, Lowell- elementary-powers-that-be decided not to fund the position anyway. I wonder if they regret that choice. I would think so.

It's sad for the kids. Especially the daughter of "the most wanted." I'm sure she can use all the support she can get right now.

There are a lot of corporate criminals in this world. Directly and indirectly, mostly through greed, their actions cost many lives. Time for the swat teams to swoop down on them. Time for us to respond to them just as dramatically and concerned.

tired of hypocrisy

NESeattleMom said...

I read somewhere (maybe in the letter from the principal) that it was a walking field trip to Cal Anderson Park, a few blocks from Lowell on Capitol Hill. At Lowell they do/did take the volunteer forms seriously. I read somewhere else (maybe in the PI on line) that the daughter really wanted her dad to come on the field trip--I'm sure ice skating is a pretty great field trip--and that the father agreed that day to come. So, my guess is he showed up and was an additional chaperone, who probably wasn't particularly in charge of a chaperone group. He probably was among a group of parents who walked the kids down and back. Yes a person who is gang-involved is a risk to be near. But I would say that if there are gang members at the park having an altercation, it is risky for anyone around there anyway, not just because this guy was there. My son went to that park with his day camp this summer on a walking field trip where I tried to pick him up. There were a lot of intoxicated semi-homeless older people who gave me the creeps with kids all around walking past them to the play area. To get through past the tennis courts and other areas, it is a narrow area you have to walk through. These guys sit on the benches making it kind of tight.

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something? I volunteer on lots of field trips and in my child's class, and I don't think anyone has ever done a background check on me.

Chaperone

NESeattleMom said...

At Lowell and Hamilton in order to chaperone on a field trip you have to turn in the background check form to the office. This is good for the whole year. At Lowell you also need it to volunteer in the classroom

Anonymous said...

I went to the ice skating trip