Friday, March 18, 2016

California Summit Principal Didn't Report Sexual Allegations Against a Teacher to Police

In February of this year, police went to Summit Tahoma High School (part of the Summit charter school chain) in San Jose, California, on a tip from a parent that there was a sexual relationship going on between a student and a teacher.

Imagine their surprise when they found that the principal had done his own "investigation" and believe it to be just a rumor. From the San Jose Mercury News:

San Jose police were informed a few days later by a parent concerned about the inaction, and their own investigation led to 29-year-old Zachary Drew being arrested and charged Wednesday with six sex-assault counts accusing him of a lengthy sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.
The principal maintains the school was not trying to hide anything and acted "in good faith."

Did he?

"When we received information we followed up according to legal requirement. Once law enforcement became involved and interrogated the student, new evidence came to light that we acted on immediately."

The District Attorney's Office said Friday that Kim's decision not to notify police or Child Protective Services was not a violation of the mandated reporter law because the rumor alone did not create a level of "reasonable suspicion" abuse had occurred, as the state penal code requires.
The code reads, in part: "'Reasonable suspicion' does not require certainty that child abuse or neglect has occurred nor does it require a specific medical indication of child abuse or neglect; any 'reasonable suspicion' is sufficient."
I printed this part because parents should know what the California mandated reporter law says but Washington State's is less clear (to me) than that.  I'll have to ask the district what teachers and staff are told.

What did the police say?
"The fact that he decided to take some of his time to investigate it automatically means it crosses the threshold of reasonable suspicion," he said. "And what expertise does the principal have in identifying potential teacher-student sexual relationships? He posed a danger to the school by doing this and not having the qualifications necessary."
 When the police came to the school to follow-up on the parent tip, the principal said he had called "the legal team" and didn't want the girls, including the victim, to be interviewed without their parents being notified.

What to learn?
Sgt. Brian Spears, whose child-exploitation unit investigated the case, said the sequence of events should serve as a reminder about the importance of involving police early on. He cited his detectives' decision to interview the alleged victim off campus as one example of the expertise they offer.
"When in doubt, we are a resource," Spears said. "Utilize that resource."

"I don't know how many times teachers and administrators have to be told: Do not investigate. Report, and let the people trained to perform sexual-assault investigations do the investigations," said William Grimm, senior attorney for the National Center for Youth Law based in Oakland. 
 We all know from experience that this kind of issue - a sexual relationship between a teen and a teacher - happens in all kinds of schools everywhere in this country.   That Summit's "legal team's" first thought was to tell the principal to interrupt police interviews is troubling.

And I find it troubling that the principal's actions seem to be more towards protecting the school than the student.

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