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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Letter To Roosevelt Community About Rape Incident

Roosevelt principal Brian Vance sent home a letter to parents about the rape at Roosevelt (it is also posted online).

I plan to write a detailed thread about this incident because it raise a lot of issues that all parents should understand about what can and can't happen in our schools. It may inspire us to tell our legislators to change notification laws.

But to address this letter, I have a continuing troubled feeling here. On the one hand, the district was very clear, in its statement to the press, that the school knew of this student but did not tell the district. (The law requires the Sheriff's office to notify the school, not the district. Dumb? Yes.) My first reaction, because I worked with Brian for two years when I was co-president of the RHS PTSA, is that there is no way Brian wouldn't have done due diligence on this work. He is a good principal, a decent man and a detail-oriented person. I find it very hard to believe he overlooked telling the district this. I told him such yesterday when I went to RHS.

What is odd in this letter is the wording here :

Seattle Public Schools complies with all laws and statutes that govern the enrollment of student offenders, including laws related to notification. In this case, we received a letter from the Sheriff's Department informing us of the presence of this student in our school. I informed our administrative team and select teachers.

State laws determine who should and can be notified when a student offender enrolls in a school. In general, notification is prohibited. The exception is that principals have discretion to inform certain staff within the school for safety purposes. The extent of the notification is established within the law. That means SPS employees are specifically prohibited by law from notifying other students, family or community members about the presence of a student offender in our schools.

So he doesn't say "When I was informed, I told the district." That doesn't mean he didn't but, for some reason, he didn't put it in the letter that he told the district. Red flag, so why not?

What is also troubling is that the suspect was on probation. So, in essence, the staff at RHS were almost de facto probation officers. Notifying them likely meant "keep your eyes and ears open" about this student. However, we don't know how many staff knew about this student but certainly not all. But if the Special Ed staff probably didn't know but if they had and saw this student interacting with one of their students, they probably would have immediately told someone. If all the staff had known, it would have been that many more eyes watching to make sure he stayed on the straight and narrow. (This is not putting a scarlet letter on this guy but it's a big school and I'll bet he flew under the radar.)

I know, it is not the job of staff or teachers to be probation officers. But when the law allows these students, who have committed crimes against children of a sexual nature, then you'd think you'd want that student watched over to protect other kids.

There is a lot wrong here and I'm still working on figuring it out.

24 comments:

Joseph Rockne said...

I think the problem is in the statute. The principal's hands were tied. The statute is at RCW 9A.44.130. The key language reads suggests that the sheriff will tell a principal and then the principal will tell only select teachers and personnel. The information (while "public") is then deemed confidential and the lips of the principal are sealed. I hope I am wrong and that I am missing something but, anyway, here is what I read from the statute:

(d) The sheriff shall notify the school's principal or institution's department of public safety and shall provide that department with the same information provided to a county sheriff under subsection (3) of this section.

(e)(i) A principal receiving notice under this subsection must disclose the information received from the sheriff under (b) of this subsection as follows:

(A) If the student who is required to register as a sex offender is classified as a risk level II or III, the principal shall provide the information received to every teacher of any student required to register under (a) of this subsection and to any other personnel who, in the judgment of the principal, supervises the student or for security purposes should be aware of the student's record;

(B) If the student who is required to register as a sex offender is classified as a risk level I, the principal shall provide the information received only to personnel who, in the judgment of the principal, for security purposes should be aware of the student's record.

(ii) Any information received by a principal or school personnel under this subsection is confidential and may not be further disseminated except as provided in RCW 28A.225.330, other statutes or case law, and the family and educational and privacy rights act of 1994, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g et seq.

Chris S. said...

2 weird things:

1) why then does the district know about some but not all sex offenders?

2) wow, that seems like a lot of responsibility for the principal to take on without the authority to involve his/her superiors.

Looking forward to what you have to say, Melissa.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't believe that the school personnel have the authority or the qualifications to act as probation officers. Where was the actual probation officer? What contact did that officer have with the student's teachers?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, and the suspect had to have no unexcused absences or tardies or behavior referrals or suspensions and work to his level of ability at school. I had heard (I'll have to go back and look at the news stories) that he was trying to do well but I wonder if those types of things mentioned above were checked every week or month?

As it is, by even talking with his victim, he was in violation of his parole.

spedParent said...

Although we can all argue about this case... I guess I'm not seeing the big deal in "informing the district". What would that have accomplished?... uhh nada. There's nothing the disttrict could do.. that the school could not have done on its own.

spedParent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa Westbrook said...

Spedparent, the district said in its statement that they have a whole structure for school placement, plan for while the student is at the school, etc. This is the big unknown because was there a plan in place by either the district or school? If not, why not? What was the gap that possibly allowed this to happen?

Those questions need answering because every student in every school and their safety depend on it.

dan dempsey said...

Level I: no one gets to know anything

Level II: Principal can notify staff as deemed appropriate. Confidentially must be observed but all staff could be contacted if principal thought this appropriate.

Level III: Notification of the community is required. Pictures are posted.

The question now is given the laws and reality .... should level II offenders be offered a different type of program by the district?

Having a 10 year-old granddaughter definitely finds me looking for something different than business as usual for level II offenders.
========
Looks like a change in Legislation in Olympia may be needed during the next legislature.

Chris S. said...

This came up in my head as I was pondering how to discuss with my daughter. I wondered, if I was the parent of a special ed teenager and she was dating someone older at the school, would anyone be able to tell me (yes/no) if he had a criminal history? Or, would it be appropriate to raise concern about the relationship to a counselor for possible monitoring?

If yes, obviously it could be abused by a helicopter parent, which is why I used a vulnerable student for an example. In my case, I would only go this route if I had some inking of inappropriate behavior, which of course would depend on my kid telling me. So I was back to "Inappropriate touching - tell an adult, please!"

But do parents of vulnerable students have some means of proactively protecting their kids?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Chris, you probably couldn't find out. However, in this case, the suspect's probation states that he is not to have contact with anyone 2+ years younger than him and/or disabled. This is a regular line item in sexual crimes probation. So, in essence, he was violating his probation from the moment he started his "relationship" with her. Trouble is, were any Special Ed alerted to this so that once they saw him talking to any Special Ed students they could have told the principal? We don't know but I suspect not.

The district, if they had a plan in place about what to do for this individual student suspect, could have directed the principal to make sure the Special Ed staff knew of this issue in his probation.

But what plan was in place? That's the question.

bryant jean said...

OK, I just don't get this at all, and I'm so mad, frustrated, and several other things that I can't even post here. If he wasn't supposed to have contact with kids 2+ years his junior, what is he doing at school where half the kids fit that description. Did anyone read what he actually did? As a 16 year old, he propositioned and lured away/tried to lure away at least FIVE girls between the ages of 5-11 at the Greenwood and Northeast libraries! Hello, is anyone listening???? Why would he be put back in a situation where he is surrounded by temptation in a very unsupervised setting? Hello, is anyone listening????

http://www.kirotv.com/download/2010/0602/23762773.pdf

Jet City mom said...

The treatment of students who are high incidence SPED in SPS is often disheartening and that is by administration and staff!

Our district does not put the child first- not with placement- not with curriculum and not when they " mainstream" sex offenders in the classroom.


I hope these recent issues galvanize the community to keep pushing for change.

We can do it. Yes, we can.
;)

dan dempsey said...

Emeraldkity spot on!! just another example of an administration that does not give a rip..... too busy with other really important stuff to bother.

ttln said...

I don't know if it is a "don't care enough to bother" situation. It really is a confidentiality issue having to do with law. The list of those who are "need to know" is severly limited. (If he isn't in your class, you don't need to know).

This is not an admin issue. It is the law and it SUCKS! I hope and pray I never help create a situation like the one at Roosevelt out of my own naivety.

Charlie Mas said...

When the principal and the teachers are told about the student's sex offender status are they also told of the terms of the student's probation? Are they charged with enforcing the terms of the student's probation? Are they given a number to call to report any suspicious or questionable activity? Are they told what activity to report?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'll try to have my "investigation" wrapped up by Monday (I need to talk to someone in the probation office for some procedural questions.) Right now, it sounds like there are problems with the law and gaps created that this situation fell through. More on Monday.

Charlie Mas said...

The Times arrives, once again, late to the party, with an editorial that calls for the District to be able to track sex offenders in the schools.

And what, exactly, does "tracking" mean and what does it accomplish?

ARB said...

Kuow blurb on the issue...
http://kuow.org/program.php?id=20468

ARB said...

I would argue that the notification "for security purposes" was broad enough to cover teachers of spec ed students, especially if sex offenders are routinely barred from contact with disabled people.

ARB said...

Slightly off topic, but I would also like to know if there have been other incidents of abuse of disabled children in our schools, whether by sex offenders or others...

spedParent said...

ARB, a disabled student was raped at Ranier Beach last year. Another student was raped at Aki-Kurose, not sure if they were disabled or not.

And, currently an autism program was placed, of all places, in the building with what ever is left of the re-entry program at Wilson-Pacific. And that totally sucks. Why should autistic kids have to be placed with ex-criminals? Is that the "least restrictive environment"? Sounds like the worst jail of all.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Why should autistic kids have to be placed with ex-criminals?"

What basis do you have for that statement? Do you know what programs are housed at Wilson-Pacific?

spedParent said...

I personally have met parents of autistic transition students who were placed at Wilson-Pacific this year, after being told they were going to be placed at a community college. They school is in constant lock-down, constant drug-deals, constant problems. The district said... it was all under control. Disabilities with re-entry... no problem. That sounds like a big problem to me! The parents I spoke with, unenrolled their kid from SPS. That was likely the hoped for result by the district in any case.

ARB said...

http://www.seattleschools.org/schools/interagency/sites/wilsonpacific/index.htm

Lists a reentry program