Monday, September 29, 2014

Why the NatureBridge Case Matters

The reported rape on a Garfield High School field trip in November 2012 matters deeply to me. Not only because I care about student safety in general and sexual assault in particular, but because I see this case as a prime example of the central dysfunction in the District. This is a particularly tragic consequence of the District’s culture of lawlessness.

The field trip procedures were completely ignored - the people who organized the trip admitted to the investigator that they didn't bother to read the field trip procedures, let alone follow them. They didn't even read the ones that they attested to reading in signed documents. Consequently, the adult supervision was completely inadequate.

The field trip procedures were completely unenforced - the people who approved the trip and had the responsibility to enforce the field trip procedures admitted to the investigator than they not only didn't bother to read the procedures, they approved the trip knowing that the adult supervision was completely inadequate.

There were no consequences for the violations of the field trip procedures - to this day not one person has been held accountable for the violations of the procedures. Instead, the District has defended and excused the violations. Even when a specific complaint was lodged against the district staff, the superintendent simply denied the complaint. He based the denial not on the question of whether the procedures were violated or not but based on his inability to conclusively determine whether a sexual assault occurred and, therefore, according to some unwritten Chick Hearn rules: no harm, no foul.

The rules were completely ignored - the chaperones acknowledged that the students committed wholesale violations of the field trip rules and the NatureBridge rules of conduct.

The rules were completely un-enforced - there were no consequences for anyone following the students’ wholesale violations of the NatureBridge rules and the field trip rules. Moreover, there were no steps taken on the second night to address the chaos of the first night.

There were no consequences for the violations of the rules - to this day not one person has been held accountable for the violations of the rules. Instead, the District has defended and excused the violations. Hey, kids. Whattayagonnado?

Following the reported rape none of the correct sexual harassment procedures were followed - there are very clear steps to take following an incident like this. They were ignored by everyone all the way up the line, from the teachers and administrators on site to the senior district management.

There was no enforcement of the procedures - the superintendent didn't take any steps to direct staff to comply with the written procedures.

There were no consequences for the violations of the procedures - to this day not one person has been held accountable for the violations of the procedures. Instead, the District has defended and excused the violations. Again, the Chick Hearn rule applied: the superintendent determined that the complaint had no standing because he could not conclusively determine that the contact was non-consensual.

This is the culture of lawlessness projected onto the worst tragedy that I hope we ever see in Seattle Public Schools. It demonstrates how this dysfunction is deeply rooted in the SPS culture - to the extent that nothing - nothing - takes precedence over it. Certainly not student safety. That’s why the case is of interest to me. That’s why I have written about it and will continue to write about it.

If the preservation of the culture of lawlessness is more important to the District than protecting student safety, then there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. If the District won't address it then I can only hope that state and federal agencies will.

Everyone who is trying to divert the conversation to questions about whether the contact was consensual or not is completely missing the point. That part doesn't matter.

Even if the contact were completely consensual, procedures were violated, rules were violated, laws were violated. Never mind the ones violated by children, I am concerned about the ones that were violated by adults who were responsible for student safety. I am concerned about how District officials have excused and defended those violations by adults - even in the face of this tragedy. Nothing matters more than preserving the culture of lawlessness.

This is the dysfunction at the root of all of the District's problems. This case shows that no one - not the senior district officials, not the general counsel, not the superintendent, not even the Board - holds a higher loyalty to anything other than this broken culture. Any and all claims to the contrary are simply false. And until the District addresses this dysfunction, there is no hope for any positive influence from the central administration in any of the schools.

The duty to address the culture of lawlessness falls squarely on the Board and the superintendent, but they have shirked it. I call on them to either step up or step down. I would prefer that they stepped up, but if they are incapable of that, then they should definitely step down.


Melissa Westbrook said...

I completely concur.

There were no consequences for the violations of the rules - to this day not one person has been held accountable for the violations of the rules.

I think the district would say that since all school staff involved with field trips has had to have new "training," those at Garfield involved have been held accountable in some way.

Now that's not any way that most would call being held accountable.

I know that one staff person involved did take a couple of personal days off directly after the trip, telling students in class that "something" happened on the trip.

I would find that person pretty sensitive if, as a chaperone on a field trip, that person found out a couple of kids had sex during the trip.

Is the fact that a couple of kids had sex that upsetting? Or would it be the case that you might really be distraught enough to not want to go to work because it was not-consensual?

I know that the Board received a very narrow charge of review when the Superintendent's ruling on the issue was brought before them.

Now why the Board didn't push back and say, "Neither you nor we are charged with figuring out if there was a crime. Our job is seeing if staff followed procedures (no matter what happened)."

Because that - and not being detectives - is the Superintendent's and Board's charge - district policies and procedures.

Stu said...

Obviously, I agree with all of this. But, of course, they've finally sorted it all out and come up with the consequences! Since it's been almost 2 years since this happened, they're going to punish the current student population but banning overnight trips. That'll teach these kids to follow the rules, especially those scofflaws in the band. Sure, they were planning on going to major jazz events in Idaho at the end of Feburary, Reno in late April, and then, of course, Essentially Ellington in early May, and sure the chaperones have been well-trained and responsible on these trips in the past, but making the innocent suffer is really the only way the principal and administration are ever going to learn! I'm sure just looking at those sad faces will really drum home how important following the guidelines might be and, though the band and orchestra might suffer in the short run, in the long run those in charge can feel as though they finally did something.


Anonymous said...

Just a couple of points.
1. Regarding the "you can't guarantee kids won't get together" excuse being discussed in the last thread: Just suppose the chaperoning had been appropriate. Although less likely, this *could* have happened anyway. However, the district would be in a much better situation. They might have angered the family so much with their behavior the family might still have gone public, but the case wouldn't have the traction it does.

2. On the issue of sexuality and culture: Imagine someone, maybe a male, had a serious and life-altering injury while partaking in risky behavior on an extremely under-supervised field trip. How would the situation be different? Would we be saying "kids will be kids!" or would we want heads to roll? This is a way to disentangle the sexism from the issue of adult responsility.

3: Regarding group punishment: Usually it is applied when targeted punishment is not possible. So Ted Howard found it impossible to dismiss his AP, impossible to discipline teachers, and his superiors found it impossible to discipline him. So in some incredibly circular and ironic turn of events, he punishes all the students! I agree it's wacky, but in this district, nothing is surprising anymore.

Chris S.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Good comments, Chris, especially around decoupling the sexism.

Anonymous said...

On Sept. 25, 2014 the parents of the Garfield assault victim reiterated their request to the District to investigate and hold accountable all the parties who failed to follow the laws. The parents also provided a list of the WACs that the District staff violated. See complaint at:

Instead of answering our comprehensive complaint, the District provided one of its regularly attorneys a few distorted questions to “investigate.” This allowed the culpable parties to be exonerated in Aug. 2014. They should be sanctioned according to the appropriate policies including 5281.

Clearly, the Seattle School District is incapable of providing a transparent investigation when it denies the very misconduct shown in its own records. Please email the Seattle School Board, Dr. Nyland, and the Educational Service Districts named below asking for an independent investigation by the Office of Professional Practices and the required consequences for those who violated the WACs.

We must implore the District to stop covering up misconduct/negligence/lawlessness with sham investigations. Because teachers and principals knew there wouldn’t be consequences for their actions, they have acted with flagrant disregard for the laws that exist to protect students.

“Dr. Nyland and All ESDs: It’s imperative that you request the Office of Professional Practices to conduct a transparent investigation of the misconduct/negligence/ other professional deficits associated with the Garfield rape case of Nov. 2012. Those responsible for the misconduct, negligence, and other violations should be disciplined as required by law. Demonstrate that you take matters of student safety seriously by requesting an independent investigation.”
Larry Nyland
Catherine Slagle OPP , State Superintendent Randy Dorn , ESD 101 , ESD 105 , ESD 112 , ESD 113 , ESD 114 , ESD 121 , ESD 123 , ESD 171 , ESD 189 , SchoolBoard


doyourjobs said...

Perhaps Superintendent Nyland can take some lessons from this also new Superintendent in Palo Alto about how to deal with OCR cases:

How much have taxpayers spent to pay for attorneys/district staff to mishandle the NatureBridge case?

Anonymous said...

Cover letter to complaint at

Dr. Nyland:
On August 18 we wrote you regarding the inadequate way the District responded to our staff complaint of this February. A month has passed and no one has replied to our letter nor has anyone even bothered to acknowledge it. This continues the District’s pattern of ignoring and deflecting our legitimate grievances. We now ask that you request the OSPI Office of Profession Practice (OPP) to perform an investigation.

In our February complaint we asserted that Seattle Public School staff failed to follow District procedures designed to keep students safe on field trips, and by doing so created an uncontrolled and unsafe environment in which a sexual assault could and did occur. As we explained in our August 18 letter, the District improperly misframed our complaint to be about deception and intent when it was actually about noncompliance with established policies and procedures in place to ensure student safety and equitable treatment of students who report acts of sexual violence.
As listed in Exhibit A, these actions and inactions by SPS staff violate the Code of Professional Conduct for Education Practitioners published and enforced by OPP, specifically WAC 181-87-060 (1), disregard or abandonment of generally recognized professional standards.

We reiterate that although the District administration publicly claims to take matters of student safety seriously, its actions belie this. It refuses to hold accountable staff who ignore established procedures designed to keep students safe. The result is that staff adopt a “loose mentality” toward complying with these procedures because they know that they are not held accountable.

Regardless of any other complaints or potential legal claims connected to this case, the facts are that SPS staff violated policies and procedures described in Exhibit A. We will not let the District sidestep its responsibilities. The District owes the community transparency concerning staff accountability in matters of student safety. The responsible action is to request an OPP investigation.


Puffin said...

Superintendent Nyland and the Board claim they have learned from the NatureBridge field trip disaster. What have they learned?

On the NatureBridge field trip, students ignored the camp rules. Boys and girls co-mingled in each other's cabins after curfew. The chaperones did not enforce the rules the first night nor administer consequences. Why should the students adhere to the rules when they're not held accountable? So the students believed they had the green light to continue to flaunt the rules the second night, when the assault occurred.

SPS staff ignored the procedures that were in place to help ensure student safety. The District administrators ("chaperones") do nothing to enforce the rules or hold staff accountable for misconduct. Instead they create new rules. Why should staff adhere to them when they aren't held accountable for compliance with the original rules?

The parents file a complaint with the District over the negligent chaperoning that created the conditions for a sexual assault to occur. The general counsel's office tells the Superintendent and Board that the complaint is about whether a rape occurred, and that the District will be sued unless they agree that there was no sexual assault or harassment, even in the face of objective evidence to the contrary. So the Superintendent and Board agree.

The parents file a complaint with the District over the unprofessional conduct of the SPS staff in planning and supervising the NatureBridge field trip. The District makes its "investigation" about whether staff acted with deceptive intent, even in the face of objective evidence of noncompliance. The general counsel's office likely informs the Superintendent and Board that if staff misconduct is found, the District will be sued. Will the Superintendent and Board again agree?

What, exactly, are the lessons the District has learned?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Doyourjobs, fascinating link. I love this:

"It took newly-arrived Palo Alto school Superintendent Max McGee about six weeks to figure out what the school board still hasn't: The way to head off costly legal entanglements when problems arise is to communicate quickly, acknowledge mistakes, make corrections, and stay focused on the needs of every student.

That's how McGee opted this month to solve the newest complaint of a frustrated Palo Alto parent who turned to the federal Office for Civil Rights for help after believing district staff had not handled their child's disability accommodations properly.

McGee didn't bring in the lawyers. He didn't try to question the appropriateness or authority of OCR's involvement, nor the motivations of the family. He didn't cost the district a dime.

Instead, he quickly pulled together a chronology of what had happened, including the errors made by the district in handling the student's 504 plan accommodation, and outlined what the district had already done to both fix the problem for this particular student and to change procedures so it wouldn't happen again. He provided all this to the OCR, which he says appears to have resolved the matter.

McGee also proved that a complaint can be publicly disclosed and discussed while at the same time fully protecting the identity and privacy of the student. The school board and its attorneys have consistently used student privacy rights as the reason for refusing to discuss complaints or the district's actions in dealing with complaints.

Board members and district lawyers, please take note of how problems can be handled in a different way from the path you have chosen."

Apparently, it can be done.

Anonymous said...

@Puffin: Read MW's comment above. The board wasn't as involved in the investigation and/or liability determinations as you suggest. They were in an appeal & review capacity, and I know some aren't happy with how the district acted, nor have we heard the last word from them on the subject.

Also, does anyone see the irony here of how the Times used to rant about the Board's micro-management? Here the board left matters to staff to handle, and look where we are? Hey, Times Ed Board: Where's that anti-micro-management diatribe now? How's the "hands off the staff" thing working out for us?


P.S. Thank you, NoNameToday, for your last post on the earlier thread. Good place and manner to wind it up.

Anonymous said...

Mirmac1: How long before the Times tries to hang the entire tragedy around the Board's neck in their push for Mayoral Control? Any bets?

Remember all: THIS Board has been together for all of 10 months. Watch the Times conveniently omit that fact, over and over again.


Anonymous said...

Please note that CA just adopted a Yes Means Yes law for dealing with sexual assault, with a special emphasis on college campus behavior.

"Every student deserves a learning environment that is safe and healthy," De Leon said in a statement Sunday night. "The State of California will not allow schools to sweep rape cases under the rug. We've shifted the conversation regarding sexual assault to one of prevention, justice, and healing."

I suggest the family with the SPS grievance use its Title IX advocacy site to begin a push for this law in WA, with the addition of a focus on high school.

I hope the family brings up the Garfield incident each time it points to the need for this law. SPS cannot be allowed to sweep this under the rug. I am still betting its administration and lawyers are counting on coverage fatigue to make the issue die down - with a quiet settlement to the family on the side.



Anonymous said...

Re The Seattle Times:

The Seattle Times has had all the documents concerning this case from May 2013. They failed to even report on the opening of the federal investigation when national and local media did report. They failed to do any investigative reporting like we saw with Al-Jazeera, Kiro, Komo, King, the Stranger, and others. Let us see whether The Times "gets" the request that Dr. Nyland ask the Office of Professional Practices for the objective investigation his district failed to provide. Let us see if The Times can figure this out.


Anonymous said...


Not to worry. We are forming a national non-profit whose mission statement includes the Seattle School District as the impetus, as also stated on our FB page. There is so much internet archived exposure now that nothing the District can do will erase this from the public eye. Join our work so we can push for the law you recommend. Stopsexualassaultinhighschool at FB


mirmac1 said...

Wow doyourjobs! Thanks for that! I saw a sunbreak in the clouds. we must clone McGee.

Anonymous said...

starts around 1:22

Our Vice President, VP Biden, has said it best:

"If I raped you, you must have done something (said as rhetoric). Its never, never, never the woman's fault. No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman. NO MEANS NO. ...This whole culture for so long has put the onus on the woman. WHAT WERE YOU WEARING? WHAT DID YOU DO TO PROVOKE? THAT IS NEVER THE APPROPRIATE QUESTION.

-VP Joe Biden interview, Today Show, with Tamor Hall Sept. 9 2014

It’s a right that flows from the document behind me -- the equal protections clause -- inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And it’s enshrined in every document we pay tribute to. And it’s the right that measures the character of the nation. It’s the single-most significant and direct way to measure the character of a nation -- when violence against women is no longer societally accepted, no longer kept secret; when everyone understands that even one case is too many. That’s when it will change.

-VP Biden;

It is sad that one 16 or 17 year old male doesn't understand this. But, what is far worse, is that adults don't seem to understand this, starting with some Board Directors: "you don't know the whole story and I can't tell it to you" Answer: she said she said no. She went to the hospital. He said she said no. What more is there? That she went to his room? That she did X, Y, and Z (wore a short skirt, was in a bad part of town, had a couple of drinks... etc, etc, pull out any old cliche you want)?? You know what? You know what she also did? She said no.

Yes, all of the policy and procedure that wasn't followed before the trip or after the hospitalization is appalling, and, it is good that a bright light is shining on that now. It matters. Things can change for the better. This can be fixed so that it won't happen again to another child.

But my heart still breaks for this girl. She should know that the Vice President has her back. If not her own School Board, then, at least the White House gets that NO MEANS NO.

full stop

Anonymous said...

Instead, he quickly pulled together a chronology of what had happened, including the errors made by the district in handling the student's 504 plan accommodation, and outlined what the district had already done to both fix the problem for this particular student and to change procedures so it wouldn't happen again. He provided all this to the OCR, which he says appears to have resolved the matter.

SPS NEVER admits mistakes. Our current OCR lawsuit is going to cost SPS around $80K in legal fees.

The tax payers should be outraged!

never learn

Anonymous said...

Not so fast on the palo alto OCR front

The Palo Alto district has been fighting OCR for over a year, claiming OCR is unfair in their rulings and investigations.

The problem is when a student loses a whole year of education rarely does a school district volunteer to make reparation.

So it's all good and dandy to admit the wrong, but districts still need to make reparation and that's the part they don't get. In the end families sue to recover damages in court. I find the OCR usually pre screens complaints and if they do investigate 90% of the time they do find Civil Rights violations committed by a school.

OCR will NOT award reparations to students or families, they will only demand the district fix the problem. The good news is families can recover real and punitive damages when a students civil rights are violated, but you need a lawyer and 2-3 years. SPS is notorious is dragging these cases out as long as possible.

hard facts

Charlie Mas said...

Yeah, it's a funny thing. The District can somehow claim "lessons learned" and, and the same time, claim that they did nothing wrong. Well, if you did nothing wrong then what lesson do you have to learn?

mosfet said...

The district just doesn't expect people to do their jobs.

These are people that are in charge of children. Children who are going to grow up to be doctors, engineers, lawyers, law enforcement, etc. People who need to act with integrity. People who need to do their jobs properly or else people will die. And what are these children learning from the district?

That it's acceptable to not take your job seriously.

That gross incompetence is completely fine.

That the law is something to be ignored.

That if you make a grievous mistake and harm someone, the right thing to do is to try to cover it up.

Anonymous said...


The administration doesn't exclusively own CYA there's plenty of that going on at the schools.

Hey what's good for the goose!

The Fonz

mosfet said...


Thank you for pointing that out. I agree that individual school administrations are part of the problem and that -- at least at Garfield -- they're also setting abysmally low standards.

I blame the Garfield principal for not demanding that his staff do their jobs, but I also blame the district leadership for not demanding that he do his job and firing him if he doesn't.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I just got back from the Garfield PTSA meeting. Some very incoherent, unclear statements made by Principal Howard and Director Blanford.

Story in the morning.

mosfet said...

Charlie wrote: "Everyone who is trying to divert the conversation to questions about whether the contact was consensual or not is completely missing the point. That part doesn't matter.

Even if the contact were completely consensual, procedures were violated, rules were violated, laws were violated."

Absolutely. Even if sex were consensual and no allegations were ever brought and no one got PTSD, the staff still would have done just about everything wrong before and during the field trip.

Even if the rape allegations were false, the GHS administration and district would have still violated Title IX left and right. More recently, they've been violating FERPA.

Chris S, Excellent points.

As Puffin mentioned, the district's investigation didn't ask whether or staff broke rules or policies. The report documented many of the ways in which they had. The investigation was about whether the staff deliberately attempted to deceive anyone. Not just if they erred or not, but if they deliberately lied to each other.

There's a Google Drive folder with a ton of documents, including the staff investigation.

Charlie Mas said...

Right now it appears that no one in Seattle Public Schools is held accountable for violations of procedures, policies, regulations, or law, no matter what rule they break or how tragic the consequences.

What can Dr. Nyland do to dispel that sense? What can he do to assure the community that district staff are held accountable when they break the rules?

More to the point, what can he do to show district staff that they will be held accountable if they break the rules?

Anonymous said...

"Everyone who is trying to divert the conversation to questions about whether the contact was consensual or not is completely missing the point." That part doesn't matter."

Good point, Charlie. But do me a favor: Read the first sentence in your post, then say that again.

I understand your point that ideally it shouldn't matter. But this didn't happen in a "district lawlessness" vacuum, and neither the interest, nor the outrage, nor the national media coverage, nor the Facebook page would exist if it didn't matter.

You can split off whatever aspects of the incident you want to discuss and focus on. Certainly many different issues and causes are involved, but focusing on only part of the problem seems ill-advised to me. If it is your position that fixing the rules and enforcing accountability is only step 1, then we may be on the same page there.

The genesis of this discussion began with what transpired between two kids in a cabin full of other kids, and to me, this case is about what to do when all the systems fail and kids are left on their own, which is as certain as rain in Seattle to happen again in some form or fashion. To that end, if we take the focus off consent, and focus exclusively on fixing bureaucracies instead, we're doing ourselves and our kids a huge disservice.

CA's recent switch to "Yes" means "yes" is proof positive that "No" means "no" wasn't enough. While the former may have been useful to charge or convict, it didn't suffice to prevent enough harm in the first place. People were satisfied and self-assured when "no" means "no" laws took effect, thinking that would fix the problem. Well, apparently it only made a dent, prompting yet another change in the law.

We can have the best laws possible on the books, and the strictest of law enforcement, but will that fix the problem? How'd it work with drugs?

I suggest we look beyond the rules and procedures if we want to make lasting change in this area. Until drug abuse was seen as a public health problem, it was all about crime and punishment.

Thus, I believe we ignore the full story to our peril.


Puffin said...

As for parsing what consent means in this case, at the time of the reported rape the victim was 15, which is under the age of consent in Washington. Because of the age differential between the students involved, this case does not meet the legal requirements for statutory rape in Washington. So what consent means in the context of this case is different from what it would mean for college students described in the California law.

Anonymous said...

Just because the FBI says they would "never" tell a school to wait until their investigation was complete before doing the school investigated, doesn't mean that someone didn't say it. The FBI would have said it out loud not in writing, then it could be denied later, or the spokesperson might not know what was said, plus the spokesperson is not under oath. When I have met FBI agents making background checks on people, they write in a little notebook, not by email, not by phone, etc. They just show up without an appointment and do things face to face. So, that does not relieve SPS or GHS from Title IX responsibilities, but to those who make judgments based on that comment from the FBI, think about that the FBI might have said that to TH/GHS.

Anonymous said...

Those who want consequences for misconduct should write:

Catherine Slagle OPP , State Superintendent Randy Dorn , ESD 101 , ESD 105 , ESD 112 , ESD 113 , ESD 114 , ESD 121 , ESD 123 , ESD 171 , ESD 189

The Seattle School District has failed to investigate a comprehensive complaint of professional misconduct. The original complaint:

No ESD Superintendent has determined that there was no violation of the code of professional conduct. Superintendent John Welch of the Puget Sound ESD stated that Seattle Public Schools (SPS) informed him that they had investigated "the same or substantially similar complaints of unprofessional conduct," and that this assurance satisfied the requirements of WAC 181-86-105. He therefore declined to have the Puget Sound ESD investigate.

This is incorrect. The SPS investigation did not address the original misconduct complaint. The District simply redefined the complaint to a few questions to suit its own purposes. This does not constitute a proper investigation. Therefore, ESDs should request that this professional misconduct be investigated .ESD Superintendents are not limited to filing complaints against certificated educators just under their ESD, according to OPP (below).

The WAC says an ESD must possess sufficient reliable information that a certificated educator has violated the code of professional conduct. The Seattle District's own documents reveal violations of the WACs, as detailed in the attached complaint.

Violations are further detailed in the following documents, including the complaint opened for investigation by the US Department of Education, Office for Civil RIghts.:

Every ESD should initiate a request to OPP to perform an independent investigation of the misconduct that has been identified. Any ESD who fails to do so is complicit with the Seattle School District's attempt to cover up the misconduct. Any ESD who initiates a request for an independent investigation models the responsible course of action for the welfare of all students.


On 10/1/2014 3:49 PM, Catherine Slagle wrote:
> I just responded to the email with my understanding of why you sent your complaint to all ESD Superintendents. I noted the RCW that states ESD Superintendents are not limited to filing complaints against certificated educators just under their ESD.
> The WAC says they must possess sufficient reliable information that a certificated educator has violated the code of professional conduct. If they do not have that, they are not required to file a complaint, and therefore are not in violation of the WAC.
> Catherine Slagle, Director
> Office of Professional Practices,
> Public Disclosure, Ethics Advisor
> Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction


GHS parent