Seattle School Board Comments from Last Night's Meeting

I only watched the Board comments and a bit more of the meeting.  (They moved at lightening speed and I think may have adjourned by 6:30 pm.)  This is NOT coverage of all their comments but just the issue-specific ones that they made.

I wish I had heard one Board member say that he or she was committed to following thru on every stated commitment and accountability measure that staff has said.  No one did.

Sherry Carr
She thanked some group in the corner for coming (and I believe this was in reference to the Garfield field trip incident). 

Stephan Blanford
For some reason, Blanford has to turn everything into some personal story.  I appreciate that he is trying to relate to schools/issues but it is odd that he does this during every single Board comment period.

He did say he thought a taskforce should be assembled to go over this issue of sexual harassment.  He said he had "spent huge amount of time in meetings with principal and staff and district staff and last night with parents/community."  But he offered no ideas about how it would happen.

He also said a constituent asked if the district had a policy about talking about the Ferguson, MO shooting.  He said one school board in Illinois had specifically told teachers they could not talk about it at all.  He said it was a genuine teaching moment.  I agree but it does have to be handled carefully.  I believe that direction should come from the district and not individual teachers.

Marty McClaren
She said, about the Garfield incident, "although we were not able to be public when this came to our attention, the School Board is very concerned about Title IX compliance. We are committed to making sure that the district steps up and does what is needed and demanded by situation. Field trip incident was a "wake-up call to this district". A taskforce is good idea"

I'm glad that she, too, believes there should be a taskforce. But neither she or Blanford looked at the Superintendent and said, "I hope to see this happen soon."

Also, would any of us have known about this without the parents and their advocacy? I do not think so. Certainly no newspaper (save The Stranger) has said much about it at all.

Would the district or Board have said anything without media attention?  I wonder.

Sue Peters
Director Peters was eloquent in mentioning "bookends" of the strength of district from the Eckstein Jazz Band playing at the Board meeting then reflecting on the weaknesses seen from the Garfield incident. She said the district needs to teach our students what sexual harassment and rape are. "We need to educate them well to keep them safe."

I normally would not agree that it is the district's role to explain these issues but since the district has a policy, students - no matter what their parents say - should understand what the district will and will not accept in behavior between students (not to mention what the law says).

She also said that she had "mentioned this before but worth stating - Math in Focus cost less than was estimated as much as $1.4M less. Thanks to all who did the negotiations" to get the district a lower cost.

She also said there was a NCLB petition to Duncan about the requested SPS waiver but it also acknowledges failures of NCLB.  She said it might be good to send in your success stories of our schools.  (She noted one of the petition organizers was a group that she co-founded, Parents Across America.) Here's a link to Secretary Duncan's Facebook page if you want to tell him about the good things in Seattle Schools.

Betty Patu
She also acknowledged "mistakes" in the Garfield incident but that they would learn from them.  It was not all that reassuring.  I think there was someone else in history who said, "Mistakes were made."  I don't think it enough.

Sharon Peaslee
I honestly did not think Director Peaslee would, for two Board meetings running, not speak in a unifying manner.  At this point, I think she is more concerned about protect the district.

Others have transcripted her remarks, here's mine:

She said there was "a lot of "misinformation" about this incident.

She said the clear and current info from superintendent is that he has asked the senior management working group to review all processes on Title IX and sexual harassment to improve our notices, investigations and training practices, compliance and remedies for victims of sexual harassment. We've established a CIR plan, blah, blah, reviewed and improved our field trip training and chaperone practices and principal training.

(I'll interject here to say that I want to see documentation that all these trainings have taken place. I don't know - a sign-in sheet with date and times - something beyond "we did this, believe us."  We're long past taking anyone's word on this serious issue.)

She said the Garfield field trip incident has shaken the entire district to its core.  She also said there had been "an immediate response at the school level" and as soon as incident came to the attention of district administrators "action was taken." "We know there are gaps in our process and we are looking at those and addressing them from a number of different angles. We need a more rapid, effective response." She said they had their own internal investigation for "over a year."

I would need "immediate response" defined because most of the evidence does not show that effort.

I have also requested some documentation about this trip that I think may reveal more issues. I know for a fact that one of the teacher chaperones took a couple of days personal leave off after the trip and told students in the class that it was because "something happened on the trip."  

She said they "cannot undo the unfortunate incident but we can learn from it and we (the district) will continue to take steps to increase safety."

She again said that the "facts are that FBI and Parks Service investigated. No criminal charges were filed and no one was charged with rape. And it is unjust to accuse someone of a felony offense they were not charged with. I would appreciate it if people would think very seriously about the language they use in describing the events of this situation."

I will say here that on that point she is somewhat correct.  I believe that this blog should have used the phrase "alleged rape" (which I did at the beginning but did not follow thru with all my threads).  It has been not legally established that a rape happened.  That said, anyone has the right to say "I believe" a rape happened.   

She stated that the "district also investigated and facts were inconclusive."

"The parents of the victim have filed with OSPI to review Board's decision and the hearing will be in November."

 She said the parents also filed complaint with Office of civil rights of US DOE. She said there was a "briefing paper available more about the incident."

She said the "parents have submitted a formal claim for financial compensation which is the first step towards litigation. Our outside attorneys are working with parents to resolve this matter and won't comment further while pending claim."

I can only say I hope the parents will NOT accept any claim.  I hope they take the district to court and have the whole thing hashed out.  I say this not to punish anyone but this district needs a real cold splash of a reality check.  No more of this busywork to cover up what appears to be lack of oversight and professionalism.  Not with children's lives on the line.

Is this to be like the Wall Street debacle?  Everyone is sorry but no one is to blame?  No accountability?  Well, then, the parents of the victim may be doing everyone a favor by their courage.  (I can completely understand if they DO settle with the district if only to get on with their own lives.)


Charlie Mas said…
Why is Director Blanford meeting with principals and staff? Isn't that EXACTLY the kind of micro-management that the Board is prohibited from doing?
Charlie Mas said…
If the District's investigation was inconclusive - they can't say with confidence that a sexual assault occurred, nor can they say with confidence that one did not, then why is their follow up identical to the follow up they would have done if they had concluded that no assault occurred? Why doesn't their follow up treat the victim as if they concluded that there had been an assault and treat the accused as if they concluded that there had not been an assault.

The default presumption is that there was no assault and therefore they treat the situation as if they had concluded that no assault occurred even when they acknowledge an inconclusive result to their investigation.

Also, and I can't believe that I have to keep bringing it back to the proper focus, they have no business investigating whether there was an assault or not. That isn't their job. They should have had a different response to the complaint. Title IX doesn't require them to conduct a criminal investigation; it requires them to protect students' rights.[
po3 said…
Sounds like a district in dire need of Courageous Conversations.
Charlie Mas said…
New Title IX updates on the Title IX Update thread.

No. They aren't very encouraging.
Charlie Mas said…
There can be no question that the duty of establishing the Sexual Harassment Task Force is Michael Tolley's job as the Title IX Official for Students.

Here's his job description:
"The two Title IX Officials assure prompt, comprehensive, and equitable investigations of any formal complaints communicated to the District, ensure proper training, and identify and implement appropriate remedies."
Anonymous said…
In the Roosevelt incident covered in the Kiro link above, which happened 4 years ago, there are three similarities with the Garfield case.

District trying to cover its a$$ monetarily. It is UNBELIEVABLE that DeBell is quoted whining about the $700K settlement. Could he be less compassionate? No. He apparently passed that tone-deafness to the current crop of board members.

District was in no way compliant with Title IX and no SPS personnel were disciplined for failing to supervise.

And now, four years later, SPS expects that changes are going to happen by the formation of a taskforce?


I continue to hope that the Feds and a civil lawsuit throw the book at SPS. The only way the district will ever learn is via a swift, hard, public kick in its arse.

Charlie, I think Blanford was face-finding and that would be okay.

BUT, since we don't know who was there or what was said, he may have been told what might be helpful to those staff and/or he may have given his own ideas.

What I feel I am seeing, more and more, is a district unable/unwilling to accept any kind of responsibility for this field trip incident.

And, they believe they are right.
Peaslee's community meeting may be worth attending!
Puffin said…
Director Peaslee is welcome to her opinion that it's wrong to call someone a rapist if that person hasn't been charged with or convicted of a crime. She should recognize that others believe they have the right to call someone who forces a person to have sex against their will a rapist, even if the assailant isn't charged or convicted. People have been known to call someone who steals property a thief, although the perpetrator is never arrested and charged, but perhaps Peaslee would take umbrage with that as well.

But in this context, Peaslee's remarks are at best bizarre and at worst blindingly insensitive. None of the protesters at the Board meetings is calling for the male student to be branded a rapist. They're protesting the District's handling of this case because it affects student safety and well-being. As Board president, Peaslee should take a moment to reflect on how her remarks make her and the rest of the Board members sound like part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

Because District staff was so cavalier about abiding by chaperone and field trip procedures designed to keep students safe, a student was deeply traumatized, perhaps permanently, her education disrupted, her family life devastated. The District's response to her ordeal demonstrates ignorance, incompetence, and indifference, not to mention the total absence of accountability. But in this whole shameful episode, the gravest injustice in Peaslee's mind is whether someone could be called a rapist who wasn't convicted of a crime.

A year and a half ago, in April 2013, the parents beseeched the Board of Directors to hold the administration accountable for investigating what happened and to take action to remedy the situation as required by Title IX. They were simply told that the District administration was handling the matter and that the Board had no say in it. Now we hear from Director McClaren that “we were not able to be public when this came to our attention.” Does this mean that Ron English issued a gag order to the District’s governing body?

Open your eyes, Directors. You blindly followed what the District leadership told you and as a result you now have: a Title IX investigation by the federal Office for Civil Rights, embarrassing national and local media coverage, an outraged community, protesters at Board meetings, and a claim for damages against the District. And only now, almost two years later, you are expressing your concern and considering what steps to take to remedy the situation. The question remains, when will anyone be held accountable?
disgusted said…
A demonstration outside the library of Peaslee's meeting will be held tomorrow starting at 3:15. Please join in with signs if you feel so inclined!
Anonymous said…
Chris S.
The principal told the victim's father than "we can't have any allegations [of rape] here" while talking the day after the rape. Yet the principal privileged the assailant's tale of ALLEGED consensual sex and failed to be a mandatory Title IX reporter.

Anonymous said…
A National major award-winning journalist asked me today why the Garfield case is getting so much attention. I told him it’s because people get out to show the media their disgust, because this case is symbolic of a festering malaise.

Please come with a sign to counteract Seattle School Board President's misinformation campaign at her community meeting. Her discriminatory rhetoric is antithetical to students' rights /Title IX and has caused outrage in the media.

Northgate Library 10548 5th Ave NE 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM TOO ANGRY TO SPEAK? Then BRING SIGNS! Bring signs anyway! Send us photos for national media on the east coast.

Peaslee continues to be falsely fixated on the failure to prosecute as justification for the District's failure to act on the report of rape. Remember the District's strategy: if there was no rape, then the deplorable chaperoning was not an issue. No liability.

Peaslee again (below) distorts the information she has had for over a year:

Subject: re: update
Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2013 07:30:00 -0700
From: Smith, Colin

As I've said before, the US Attorney has not determined that no sexual assault occured [sic], but that we do not have a case that can be successfully prosecuted in court.

Colin Smith
Chief Ranger
Olympic National Park
360 565-3110

Local attorney who may be at the rally:
From: Theresa Schrempp []
Sent: Tuesday, September 02, 2014 11:17 AM
To: ''
Subject: Peaslee Should Resign

For the welfare of Seattle students, Sharon Peaslee (and probably others) should resign. She has demonstrated what could be charitably called irresponsible leadership regarding the rape which occurred during a Garfield High School trip. The fact that no prosecution was pursued is irrelevant. The perpetrator was not exonerated. The entire event was covered up, and would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the courage of the child’s parents and a handful of others. Does Ms. Peaslee care nothing about the safety of her students? Apparently not.

Theresa Schrempp
Sonkin & Schrempp PLLC

Victim's family
Anonymous said…
To be clear, when I said not "alleged" I meant it HAPPENED. Sharon Peaslee really sent me over the top here... being, as someone else said "part of the problem." Make that a BLAZING part of the problem. And she's usually a pretty clear independent thinker...Who are you and what did you do with Sharon Peaslee?

Chris S.
Good question, Chris

I have heard from the Garfield PTSA Bd that they support Principal Howard. I hope to have a longer conversation w/them in the future as their own PTSA minutes reflect concern over other chaperoned trips.

mirmac1 said…
"... that tone-deafness to the current crop of board members."

I don't agree with this comment. we do not know the discussions and info between board and counsel. I'm sure THAT would be eye-opening.
mirmac1 said…
The PR releases from central don't reflect what's going on at the building level.

I just had a teacher tell me overnight trip chaperoning shouldn't be so onerous and that chaperones should be able to bring their little ones along. Huh? Do building staff KNOW what happened at this disastrous, bungled field trips?! Is it just viewed as more paperwork and bureaucratic hassling?!

Needless to say, I was not pleased to hear this.
Anonymous said…
It's not exactly a chaperoning issue, but what about middle schools that host an orientation for new 6th graders, where groups of students may be in classrooms with their 8th grade mentors (or whatever they call them) without an adult in the room? I've heard that may occur, and given everything that's happened recently it make me nervous to send my daughter to orientation next year. Are there rules about what level of supervision needs to be provided when children are officially under the school's care?

Cautious Mom
Cautious Mom, are the students in one classroom for an extended period of time or briefly and then touring the building?

Kids don't have an adult with them every minute of the day (it's not possible). As well, the school adm tends to pick kids to be mentors who are vetted to be trustworthy. That should be some comfort.

It seems to me with a group and just one older kid, not much could happen.

Ask your principal if you have doubts.
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