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.