Sunday, August 24, 2014

Fix the omission

Something's missing and we all know what it is.

It's the unfulfilled commitment I have been requesting for over ten years. It's the hole at the heart of the district's dysfunction. It is the emptiness at the root of the complaints and protests about the Garfield rape case. It is what was absent from Director Peaslee's understanding of the protests and it was omitted from Dr. Nyland's letter.

The District staff does not comply with procedure, policy, regulation, or law and they do so without consequence. No matter if the violation is trivial or tragic, they are not only neglected, not only forgiven, but even defended.

A sea of outrage rose up against Director Peaslee's tonedeaf remarks at the Board meeting. We were shocked by her misunderstanding of the protests. They were not calls to hold the boy accountable for his actions but a call to hold the district staff accountable for their actions (and inactions). How was it possible for Director Peaslee to get this so wrong?

She was not alone. No one else on the Board spoke about compliance. Review Dr. Nyland's letter to the community. Nowhere does it mention the district staff's past failures and, more to the point, nowhere in this letter does he make a commitment to comply with the rules or enforce the rules going forward. He comes close to making such a statement. He creates the suggestion of such a statement, but he does not actually make any such statement.

Please. Take a minute. Go and re-read Dr. Nyland's letter to the community. Look for any commitment to address the real concern. It's not there. There is nothing in this letter about complying with procedure, policy, regulation, or law, nor is there anything in this letter about enforcing those rules, nor is there anything in this letter about holding people accountable for violating these rules.

This is the central focus of the protests. This the central failure. Yet Dr. Nyland, like the Board, has neglected to address it.

I have written to them asking them to address this omission. I have little hope that any of them will.

Dr. Nyland's letter does include these words:

"We are also working with the Office of Civil Rights and will give careful consideration to their recommendations for improvements in our compliance" Yeah, they will give them careful consideration, but he doesn't say that they will adopt them. The district, more than likely, will reject them. Think of all of the times that district officials have promised to give something their "careful consideration" before they went ahead and did whatever they were going to do anyway.

The senior management working group will "review all processes related to the requirements of Title IX on sexual harassment to improve our notices, training, investigation practices, compliance actions..." Let's be clear: a promise to review processes on compliance actions is not a promise to comply. It is, in fact, two steps removed from a meaningful commitment to comply. First, it is only a promise to review compliance actions. Second, it is only an indication of an intent to improve them - an improvement that could be incremental and not qualitatively different from the current neglect.

Ted Howard "and the Garfield staff are now even more aware, knowledgeable and committed to enforcing our field trip policies rigorously". The field trip policies? Not the sexual harassment policies? Not the sexual harassment procedures? Not RCW 28A.640? Not Title IX? Nope. None of those. Just the field trip policies. To see this issue as a problem with the field trip policies is willful blindness.

Dr. Nyland's letter does not include these words:

"We are committed to compliance with all procedures, policies, regulations, and laws regarding sexual harassment and we will enforce these rules with meaningful consequences for anyone who violates them."

Think how much better the letter would have been if it had included those words. Think how much better the letter would have addressed the central concerns of the community.

16 comments:

dan dempsey said...

Charlie, You certainly are correct in your assessment that "No one in the SPS has any interest in holding anyone responsible for the past violations of policies and procedures."

The absurdity continues. How can anyone take these folks seriously.

Accountability = Zero unfortunately that is the status quo and apparently has been so for decades. No change in sight.

Anonymous said...

Charlie,

You have articulated our experience of the last 20 months. We had no idea a school District could be so dishonest, corrupt, and immoral. The negligence that permitted a sexual assault is unbelievable. No accountability, only lies, obfuscation, blaming--how can these so-called humans sleep at night? How can the teachers and principals laugh knowing their negligence ruined a child and a family?

No, I continue to imagine them laughing at all our intelligent conversation while they enjoy their power and paychecks. The time is coming for some public outrage. What we saw last week was only the beginning, 4 weeks after the national media broke the story of the federal investigation. We are just getting organized--and the key lies with the students and young adults who understand what the District's negligence has done to their friends.

Mrs. Miller

Charlie Mas said...

Here's the part that bugs me the most: it would only take one person, just one, to make the change.

Obviously that one person could be Dr. Nyland. It is, after all, his job. He could enforce the rules and he could deliver real consequences to the people who violate them.

But Dr. Nyland isn't the only person with this opportunity. While they are extremely unlikely candidates, every single member of the senior management also has this opportunity. Charles Wright and Michael Tolley could do it. Do you realize how odd it is to say "The senior management are the last people we could expect to require district staff to comply with the law."?

Our best hope is that a board director will do it. Our best hope is that a board director will meet with the superintendent to discuss compliance and will direct the superintendent to take specific action to comply with policy. There are seven board members so that creates seven chances that one of them will do it.

Ah, but wait! You may be thinking that a single board member doesn't have the authority to direct the superintendent. That's true. It requires a majority vote of the Board to direct the superintendent to take a specific action. What people forget, however, is that every policy was adopted by a majority vote of the Board, so the majority vote has already been cast. After that any board member can do the job. In fact, after that, every board member has the duty. So we have seven people who accepted this duty. We only need one of them to actually do it.

Go to the board director's community meetings. Read the sexual harassment policy 3208 out loud. Get the Board member to admit that it was not followed. Ask who was held accountable for violating the policy. Remind the board member that policies which are not followed and are not enforced are not policies at all. Ask about the annual report required by the policy. There has never been one. Ask the board director to demand the annual report. Ask the board director to do the job they campaigned to get.

It just takes one.

Puffin said...

In the business world, employees have commitments that they're held to; else there are consequences to face. If someone is assigned an action item, that person is responsible for completing it by a target date. If it isn't, that person has to explain why it wasn't.

In the world of education administration bureaucrats, no one is held responsible for commitments delayed or ignored. To soothe the public, they give lip service to making effective changes, but since there's little or no accountability, they're not motivated to do anything but spout bromides.

Demand change. A person tasked with an assignment completes it at an agreed upon date, and is held accountable if it isn't. If the rules aren't followed, there are consequences. Isn't that what we expect of our students?

Anonymous said...

How is it that no one lost his/her job in this incident?

-wondering about the obvious

Charlie Mas said...

@wondering,

No one lost their job in this because... you're not going to believe this... the district has determined that no one did anything wrong.

Yes, the people who organized the trip didn't follow (or even read) the rules on chaperones, but that's no big deal.

Yes, the chaperones didn't follow (or even know) the rules for chaperones, but that's no big deal.

Yes, the principal made a number of false statements to the family, but he didn't "lie" to them because there was no intent to deceive.

Yes, the principal failed to follow (or even read) the procedure for responding to such a complaint, but that's no big deal.

Yes, the district staff utterly failed to follow the procedure, the policy, and the federal law (or, apparently, even know about them), but that's no big deal.

Because the district hasn't been able to conclusively determine that any sexual harassment ever occurred, none of these things matter. If there was no sexual harassment, then none of these policies, procedures, or laws even apply, right?

Wrong, but there is no higher authority to compel them.

The district's position is, incredibly, that no one needs to be disciplined for this because no one did anything wrong.

Charlie Mas said...

The district has to conclude that none of their staff did anything wrong because if they did reach that conclusion then they would be acknowledging that they have some liability. Instead, they deny any wrongdoing and confirm the claim that they are blameless as their own judge and jury so they protect themselves from liability.

They have to do it this way to evade any legal responsibility and any possible compensation to the victim.

Reader47 said...

Absolutely spot on right Charlie. There is a massive conflict of interest going on here -in that there's no incentive (beyond common decency) for them to find that any staff member did anything wrong.

Instead, there's whopping incentive (potential financial liability) in finding just the opposite.

I doubt anyone at the district learned anything from this situation, except that sadly, delaying tactics often work. I see them all lumbering along under that vain hope that "if we just pretend this didn't happen for long enough, the accusers will get tired and go away."

not so much.

Anonymous said...

Fear of getting sued is what drives this district. Yet they seem to lose many of their lawsuits.

Following good policy would protect them more in the long run.

S parent

Lynn said...

Common decency? That would be nice. Instead we have Ron English to deal with. Have you seen the way he responded to her family? That provided some pretty good insight into his character.

Fred said...

Charlie said: "The district has to conclude that none of their staff did anything wrong because if they did reach that conclusion then they would be acknowledging that they have some liability. Instead, they deny any wrongdoing and confirm the claim that they are blameless as their own judge and jury so they protect themselves from liability.

They have to do it this way to evade any legal responsibility and any possible compensation to the victim."

Ironically, it is exactly this behavior that makes them liable. The Supreme Court ruled that schools may have to pay damages to victims if the victim can show that the school/district acted with "deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment in its programs or activities". Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 633 (1999)

I think the parents have a pretty convincing case for deliberate indifference here.

Anonymous said...

What do you think it is? Deliberate indifference or intentionally blaming the victim and excusing the perpetrator?
GHSmom

Fred said...

All of the above! Indifference (at best) from some; victim blaming from others.

Either way, that is what makes them liable according to Title IX. (Which they would know if they knew anything about Title IX).

Anonymous said...

So, if there is a legal finding that someone did something wrong... then will someone get fired? Too bad there isn't a test to use to hold these educators accountable. Ridiculous.
-Still wondering

Melissa Westbrook said...

"They have to do it this way to evade any legal responsibility and any possible compensation to the victim."

Charlie, their own investigation can say this. BUT, in a court of law, it will NOT hold water if all these "alleged omissions or oversights or whatevers" are aired. A jury does not have to give any more weight to the district's investigation than any other evidence.

S Parent, your comments are the situation in a nutshell. Thanks.

Still wondering, no, if there was a court decision - and it would be civil - then I think it is likely for damages/compensation to the victim. The Court could say - these people's alleged negligence/indifference/whatever - allow the situation to be able to happen. Meaning, they could assign some degree of responsibility but, of course, could not say "they are responsible."

The district would be the only one to fire anyone but you'd think if a court decision ruled against the district and named names, they would.

I doubt it even with a decision against the district.

However, I am doing some of my own research on this issue and finding there were issues long before this incident.

I'm not going to have any problem naming names.

Karen said...

There's going to be a protest at the School Board meeting on Wednesday 9/3, 4:15, demanding accountability from the district for their failures in preventing the 2012 GHS rape or for even caring that it happened.

More details at https://www.facebook.com/events/1448858625401836/