Sunday, April 15, 2012

Being Clear on the Real Issues around the Lowell Investigation

I just wanted to make a couple of things clear on this issue and then move on.  I'm going to rely on the words from the Times' article of March 23, 2012 by Brian Rosenthal to make several points abundantly clear.

It is a very dangerous thing to have people in authority who have legal responsibilities then look away or shrug when behavior issues between staff and children are brought to their attention.  It is a danger to the accuser, the accused, the child(ren) and to our district.  Everyone needs protection and attention must be paid. 

There are two huge reasons why this particular case is concerning.

One, we have past history - damning, troubling and ultimately, costly history - that this district has turned away from these kinds of investigations.  From the Times' article (bold/color mine):

The release of the report comes as district officials have recently acknowledged their current policy regarding reporting child abuse, neglect and exploitation is lacking.

State law requires all school employees to report any suspicions of abuse to their school principal, who must investigate and then report to police or Child Protective Services. In addition, almost all employees are themselves required to report suspected abuse to law enforcement.

But in some Seattle schools, the tradition has been for employees to only report to the principal. District officials promised to stamp out that practice after they paid more than $3 million to settle a lawsuit by former students who had been sexually abused by fifth-grade teacher Laurence E. "Shayne" Hill.

Hill admitted molesting as many as 13 girls — and in 2005 was sentenced to five years to life.
At the time, district officials promised to revamp training policies and clarify proper reporting duties.
But the investigation released Friday suggests the district needs to do more.


The district is, once again, promising to do better.  That it didn't after 13 elementary-aged children were molested by a teacher AND the district had to pay out millions because of it is deeply troubling.

That in this particular incident everyone was lucky it was not abuse (sexual or otherwise) does not negate the seriousness of two principals who chose to not properly investigate something reported to them.

And if it had been abuse, sexual or otherwise, boy, would this conversation be different.

This is not a vendetta against the principals - I don't know them and it's less about them - but more a challenge to the district to understand how important it is to get - it - right.  That this case even exists means the district did not do its job from the last time something like this came up.

The second reason this is a serious issue is the reaction of the principals to the investigation.  Now legally, of course they shouldn't admit fault (but telling the truth would have been a good start) but rather than saying no comment, here's what they did say:

In an email Friday night, King said the report "relied on made-up facts and faulty, biased assumptions."

According to the Times' the investigation showed:
"King did not understand the rules related to reporting child abuse — he did not know when school employees were required to report to him or to law enforcement, nor was he aware of the standard that triggers the reporting requirement," Kent wrote.

Personally, if I were in senior management at SPS, I would have called his statement insubordination.   Not only is Principal King not acknowledging any responsibility, he was saying the investigation was somehow biased and made-up.   And yet, the investigator questioned even his most basic knowledge base of what the law is in such cases. 

In a statement, Geoghagan said she had been told about the incident but not key details, such as the kissing of feet, as the district's investigation determined.

"I stand behind what I did in response to that report," she wrote. "I investigated it and took appropriate action consistent with the district's guidelines... "

Again, the evidence provided showed she did not do any investigation according to what the district says an investigation should look like.

Also troubling on the part for Geoghagan is her stated belief, in the report, that she could not investigate the behavior of a staff member if she had not seen it herself.  Those are not the words of a principal who understands her legal duty and has the willingness to accept that duty.  

Both of them, given that they had reprimands placed in their personnel files, might have chosen to say "no comment" or "I now understand what the district is asking of me as a principal."  That they chose to continue to challenge the investigation is an interesting tactic to take.

Parents,it's fine to move on.  But, you might want to express concern via a strongly-worded letter or e-mail to the Superintendent and/or Board about them taking steps to make sure this never happens again - at any school - because clearly the Hill case hasn't seemed to register with senior staff. 

And, because the next time, it really could be something serious that affects a child.  Maybe yours. 

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good summary Melissa. I just want to add that it is up to administrators to look at the total picture when staff bring complaints and concerns about an employee. What might seem innocent or merely due to lack of training could be something more sinister if it is part of a pattern or if it continues to occur despite warnings and training. It is a concern when administrators don't follow the rules and brush complaints off for whatever reason.

-concerned about these issues

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I totally agree with you that the things that happened with the administrators was disgraceful and grossly remiss. I am disappointed in the senior administrators who have decided to slap these principals on the wrist. I think with the further legal actions that are coming might not look so good on Seattle Schools. There are so many good things happening in Seattle Schools, why do we have to mess up a such big ways?
--Hoping for better days

Anonymous said...

So with further legal action possibly coming, this may be wayb R is sticking to her guns and not acknowledging what she did that was not correct. Getting sued sticks......

Annie

Anonymous said...

Rg can choose. She can prep for a lawsuit, which involves making carefully crafted statements that won't hurt her in court, or she can get on with her job, which includes taking significances steps to address the discomfort and uncertainty some parents are feeling, including either admitting she did wrong or pointing out that the investigation is faulty.

It looks like we're going to see a lawsuit.

- popcorn

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm just going on the record here to say I know nothing of any lawsuit involving either party. Anyone speaking of a lawsuit has their own information.

Josh Hayes said...

The suggestion that Ms. G couldn't investigate something she had not witnessed is ludicrous -- if the police took that attitude, they'd never investigate any crime that a police officer had not witnessed. Doesn't that sound crazy? Of course it does! When allegations of crimes are reported to the police, they investigate. When allegations of possible abuse are reported to principals, therefore... they CAN'T investigate? WTH?

Anonymous said...

At a bare minimum it is abundantly clear that Principal Geoghagen witheld information (meeting with King and HR) that, if shared, would have precluded pursuit of the investigation against the original reporters of the incident in question for "failure to report". Additionally, through her statement about "not contacting CPS unless witnessing an incident personally", she showed her lack of understanding of proper procedures that are in place in order to protect children as well as staff. She blew it in large, large ways.

"I had no role in any subsequent investigation of those who leveled the accusations in the first place." (from RG 3/22/12 statment)

This statement, in response to the YWC report, shows that she does not understand the nature of "reporting" requirements. She slings mud by claiming that the original reporters "leveled accusations". No, Principal Geoghagan. They reported observations.

Teachable moments come when someone is open to learning.

-Still Waiting

hschinske said...

Yes. Absolutely. I'm going to take this opportunity to repost something I wrote on an earlier thread:

I was a kid who experienced several incidents of confusing unwanted touching from a couple of different teachers and a doctor. I am strongly in favor of it being normal to report even incidents that may be minor, so that well-meaning people have the opportunity to adjust their behavior to be more professional, and a track record of possibly inappropriate behavior exists for those who turn out to be predatory. That goes double or triple for anyone who works with an especially vulnerable population.

This isn't a case where any decent person will automatically do the right thing by a child, thus anyone who doesn't is automatically a terrible pedophile and must be fired instantly. It's entirely possible for a well-meaning person to touch a child inappropriately, AND THAT CAN STILL BE HARMFUL, REGARDLESS OF INTENT.

There's no reason for every incident of this type to be a high-pressure thing with accusations flying. The very fact that this became one after entirely appropriate reporting is a huge red flag to me of a dysfunctional culture at the school. True professionals take such incidents as a chance to learn and grow. I hope other principals in the system are taking the opportunity to have talks with their staff members about better ways to handle such problems.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

I was at the meeting at Lowell and asked RG about what she had done to assure staff that they would be treated fairly and with integrity by her - after she's been reprimanded for her dealings with staff members. I think she gave a reasonably good response.

Included in her response was the fact that she has recently dealt with a teacher that had to be removed from their classroom and she worked hard to do it right. Several parents from that classroom spoke up to say that she did an excellent job of going by-the-book, treating the teacher and others with integrity and dignity, even in a very difficult situation.

Hopefully this shows that she is developing as a leader and putting past mistakes behind her. BTW, I think many principals shy away from difficult tasks like this, leaving kids to suffer in dysfunctional classrooms for years.

mom of 2

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mom of 2, I had heard about this action by RG and that some parents were very happy. It is good that she knows and will follow the process to exit an ineffective teacher.

However, that is not the same as the issue at hand. That was the question to have asked.

Anonymous said...

I posted this under another thread (the one on the APP blog) largely in response to mom of 2 -- since she thought to post her observation here, I am reposting mine as well (so you can ignore if you have already read it):

I had to smile at the comment above -- regarding those who want to keep the "investigation issue" alive -- because, unlike Melissa, I am one of them. I have come to believe that in power structures, nothing changes if nothing changes. Here, one SLP was driven to resign, another has suffered serious health consequences, many teachers have left the APP program (not all of whom could possibly have been "sub standard" -- and yet the only "consequence" for King and Geoghagan is a letter of reprimand. They don't even have to accept the findings or agree to do better (which they didn't --- as they say the findings are all lies and mischaracterizations).

I would like to believe mom of 2. I hope she is right in suggesting that, despite her denial of the investigation results and her bizarre, heavy-handed treatment of Melissa, despite her lack of any single thing that even hints of remorse, or contrition, or of a renewed commitment to "do better next time" -- she actually HAS had these conversations with her teddy bear at night, and is a changed person. If that happens, this will all end "mostly" well, though a public accounting/apology will still be needed, until it is made.

My worry is that she will "behave" for a little while -- because she knows people will be watching her, and wondering -- but that as soon as another few years have rolled by and "most" of the parents are new (and many of those remaining are deniers who want to bury the whole thing) -- she will feel free to return to her bad management habits. In the absence of any accountability on her part for the past, there simply is no reasonable basis on which to conclude that the future will be different -- there is only "blind hope." (Though a steady consistent practice of doing better will begin to constitute evidence). In the meantime, it gets worse -- the fact that she lacks the courage and character to face this now is a "bad sign" with respect to whether she has actually changed or used her reflection upon her actions last year to become a better leader/person. And worse still -- the fact that she actually called security on Melissa is not the kind of thing that one would expect from a confident person, comfortable in a leadership position. It is the sort of bullshit response you get from petty bullies who assume that they have to (and are entitled to) use force or coercion to get their way, and are determined to use their position to maintain their power over a situtation and stick it to whomever they perceive to be either a threat -- or in a weaker position, and thus capable of being dominated.

Integrity and dignity in a difficult situation? Melissa sure didn't get any of that -- and she didn't even present a "difficult situation." I think Ms. Geoghagan just saw Melissa as someone not backed by a huge power structure, someone whom she could, and therefore did, push around at will.

May Mom of 2 be right
May I be wrong

Jan

Anonymous said...

Many people have posted comments similar to mom of 2's, citing reasons why they like or respect Rina Geoghagan. Some of the people who ended up being treated the worst by Geoghagan liked and respected her at the beginning and thought the feelings were mutual. Those feelings seemed to last for Geoghagan only as long as it was convenient for her. When the tide turned, it was quick and drastic and woe to the person(s) in her way.

-don't say we didn't warn you

Anonymous said...

Melissa-

I don't know anything for sure about a lawsuit. However, a pending suit is the best explanation I can come up with for a principal to act this way who is well liked by at least some of the parents and teachers at her school. And if the investigation or the reprimand were truly faulty, she may have a good legal case. But ...and this was my point...by choosing that path (assuming that's true) she is giving up an opportunity to build back trust with parents now.

- popcorn

Anonymous said...

I agree with "Don't say we didn't warn you.

That description describes my experience with R.G.

Former APP teacher

Anonymous said...

popcorn --

Not only do I have no information involving lawsuits -- I thought it seemed pretty clear that at least with respect to the SLP investigation, no one seemed very anxious to call in the lawyers. They weren't trying to cash in. They just wanted the system to work better, and for some accountability for what appeared to be pretty blatant retaliation. Well, they got a little from the investigator -- but virtually none from the SDS, especially as the District has allowed both King and Geoghagan to basically call them liars without any consequences.

You are correct that playing the litigation angle prevents them from rebuilding trust. It is also a bs response in circumstances if (as I suspect) no suit has been threatened.

Don't say we didn't warn you's post is exactly the kind of thing that worries me. More polish on the outside -- same rotten heart and retaliatory, bullying tactics within.

Hope Mom of 2 is right.
Hope I am wrong.

Jan

Anonymous said...

Its like shakespeare, divide the school into: with us or against us. Then eliminate the opposition. It is clear that a pattern of intimidation and I have personally experienced this with RG is in place. Is this what we want? It would be the best for all concerned for the principal to find a new placement. Peace and harmony can not be reached in the current situation. A fresh start would do wonders for everyone. Hope for a new year