What's wrong with the District's narrative on NatureBridge?

Seattle Public Schools, and Board President Peaslee in particular, have been pushing a narrative about the November 2012 sexual assault that has been making a lot of people mad. Just in case you, or someone you know, has read the District's account and cannot see why people are angry about it, I will offer an explanation.

Here is the District's narrative.

Here's what's wrong with it:

In November 2012, a sexual incident occurred during a Garfield High School field trip. As a result of that incident:

"Incident"? Wow. Nice euphemism. It was a rape. It's okay. You can say that word. In fact, using any other word is not only evasive, it diminishes the event and consequences. The word you're looking for here is rape. And, yes, you can say that a rape occurred even if no one has been convicted of rape just as you can say a car was stolen even if no one has ever been convicted of stealing it.

  • Two federal agencies investigated, and no charges have been filed. The District’s own investigation identified insufficient and conflicting information to make a determination whether an assault occurred.
Funny thing about these facts: they don't matter. First, only one federal agency investigated. The National Park Service didn't conduct an investigation, only the FBI. Second, the fact that charges weren't filed isn't relevant. Seriously, what difference does that make? The District's own investigation? In what way is the District qualified to conduct a rape investigation? Is that the District's core competency? And why would the District investigate a rape accusation? Look through the regulations. They don't call for the District to investigate to determine if a rape occurred. That's not the District's job. Third, if the District's investigation proved inconclusive, then why is the District acting like they concluded that no rape occurred? Seriously, why, if the investigation was inconclusive, are they acting like it concluded that the contact was consensual?
  • The matter is ongoing with more appeals, investigations and legal actions pending.
Funny how, without actually saying it, this statement implies that the appeals, investigations, and legal actions pending are about whether a rape occurred or not. They aren't. The appeals, investigations, legal action are all around the failure of District officials to comply with the regulations and laws that dictate their response to a sexual harassment complaint. It is the District that is under investigation now, not the boy.
  • The District continues to strengthen policies and practices in regard to field trips and Title IX, which includes sexual incidents such as this one.
"continues" implies that there was some activity going on before some moment and that more activity is going on currently. That's not the case. The District has not updated the sexual harassment policy and there was no effort underway to revise it in response to this incident. The sexual harassment policy was not included in the Board policy revision project. Here is the Board's Policy Review Calendar. You'll notice that Policy 3208 is not listed. As it happens, the OSPI, in their 2013-2014 Consolidated Program Review, named, as a required action, that the District update their sexual harassment policy and procedure. You'll have to scroll down to page 82 of this document to see this and all of the other related actions that the District was required to take. That is what has triggered this work. The District originally committed to updating the policy and procedure by July 1, 2014. They have obviously missed that deadline. Missing the deadline indicates a lack of urgency about this issue. The fact that two months after the deadline they still not have moved forward on this task indicates a sort of aggressive negligence. You should take a look at some of the other required actions for the District named in the Consolidated Program Review. It's not a pretty picture.

By the way, the Board knows about all of the various audit findings about failings around Title IX. The corrective actions report was reviewed at the quarterly meeting of the Audit Committee. They expressed no urgency or disappointment with staff over the missed deadlines. They just asked for new expected completion dates. Here are the minutes of their March 2014 meeting. You'll find nothing here that suggests an admonishment of the staff, an attempt to hold them accountable, or even an expression of impatience.

Anyway, the whole thing is beside the point. Even if the District changes their policies that won't change the fact that they didn't comply with the policies and procedures that were in place in November 2012. The field trip policies and procedures, the chaperone policies and procedures, and the sexual harassment policy and procedure were all completely ignored. If the District is revising them that's swell, but it won't change the fact that they don't follow them anyway. That does, however, bring us to the central question of this whole affair.

The central question in all of this was, is, and will be:
Were the District's actions in compliance with procedure, policy, regulation, and law?

The information below outlines some added detail on each of the above:

Incident Background

• November 2012:

The incident occurred on an overnight school field trip by Garfield students to Olympic National Park in November 2012.

A female student told two other students she had been assaulted the previous night. The second student told to their teacher, and two teachers went to the female student, talked to her and immediately took action. The female student was taken to the hospital and law enforcement authorities (the FBI and the National Parks Service Ranger) were contacted, as well as her parents. The principal took steps to identify the male student involved, and emergency excluded him from school.

Excluded from this narrative was the absence of any effective chaperoning on the field trip. Funny how they left that out, isn't it? There were three named chaperones on the trip - all women. Two of them left the students and slept with their families in cabins hundreds of feet away from the students' cabins. The remaining woman chaperone and an unlisted, unscreened young man who was also there as a chaperone were completely incapable of managing the students on the first night. Students were out of the cabins at night in violation of the guest agreement with NatureBridge, in violation of the field trip rules, and putting the District in violation of the agreement with NatureBridge. Despite the chaos of the first night, no action was taken to bolster the chaperoning on the second night, the night of the rape. The young man serving as the chaperone in the boys cabin went to sleep early with earplugs. Funny how none of these facts made it into the District's narrative.

Oh, when the principal "emergency excluded" the student from the school he failed to inform the victim or her family of this fact. She stayed away from the school to avoid him, not knowing that he wasn't there. And what was the basis for the emergency exclusion? The District's narrative neglects to mention. So does the principal.

Here's the central question, and one which  the District's narrative doesn't address: were these actions in compliance with the procedure, policy, regulation, and law?

• January 2013:
Immediately after the accident the District offered to meet with the parents to identify supports for their daughter. Various supports were requested. The District provided individualized instruction and other accommodations, and arranged for a transfer to another high school, as requested. The female student was scheduled to begin classes at the new school for the second semester in January 2013, but never attended.

The 504 accommodations and supports were arranged, but then they were revoked. Does that still count as having provided them? The District says that they "provided individualized instruction", but it's not like they offered it. The victim's family learned of the option from other sources, not from the District, and, in the end, the District didn't actually provide it. The District is correct in saying that the student did not attend her transfer school. Funny that they don't say why she didn't. Aren't they interested? Also, why does the victim have to transfer instead of the alleged attacker? Why does the victim have to have her education disrupted in this way? Shouldn't the transfer have been for him instead of her? Take a moment and ponder that.

Here's the central question, and one which  the District's narrative doesn't address: were these actions in compliance with the procedure, policy, regulation, and law?

• Winter 2013:

The U.S. Park Service and FBI investigated the incident. During fact gathering for a law enforcement investigation, any District investigations are deferred. The FBI turned over their information to the U.S. Attorney's office. After review, the U.S. Attorney declined to prosecute and no charges have been filed against the male student.

It is incorrect for the District to defer their investigation during law enforcement investigations. Follow the link from the District's new Title IX web page to the Dear Colleague letter and you'll see this clearly stated. This is, right here, an open admission by the District that they did something wrong, but they don't seem to recognize it. The reason that the District should not defer their investigation is because they are investigating something different than law enforcement. The District isn't supposed to be investigating whether or not a crime occurred. The District has no expertise in that, it is being handled by the experts, and the District has no duty to conduct such an investigation. The fact that the federal prosecutor chose not to bring charges is simply irrelevant.

Here's the central question, and one which  the District's narrative doesn't address: were these actions in compliance with the procedure, policy, regulation, and law?

• March 2013:

After the US Attorney declined to prosecute, the parents filed a written complaint in March 2013. The District immediately started a review of the facts and provided reports to the parents. The parents requested an independent investigation, and the District had one conducted by an attorney familiar with sexual assault complaints. The investigator asked to interview the female student and to receive copies of the documents from the federal investigation. The parents denied these requests. The preliminary results of the SPS investigation were provided to the parents in June 2013.

The District acknowledges that the victim's family filed a written complaint. Funny that they don't say what the family complained of. The family was complaining that the District staff utterly failed to follow the procedure, policy, regulation, and law. What does the District think they complained about? The District started a review of the facts. Did they? What facts did they review? Did they review the facts through the lens of compliance? The victim's family did request an independent investigation, but not about whether a rape occurred. The investigation was supposed to be about whether the District staff complied with proper procedure. They also wanted a Title IX investigation, not a criminal investigation. That Title IX investigation was supposed to be completed within 30 days of the incident, but it wasn't even started until five months later and wasn't a Title IX investigation. The District investigated the wrong thing again. That's because the District is desperate to look everywhere but at their own compliance.

Here's the central question, and one which  the District's narrative doesn't address: were these actions in compliance with the procedure, policy, regulation, and law?

• January 2014:

Superintendent Jose Banda issued a decision under School Policy 3208SP concluding there was insufficient and conflicting information about whether the female student had more likely than not been the victim of nonconsensual sexual contact. The parents appealed that decision to the School Board.

There are three really interesting things about this statement. First, I don't think that Mr. Banda really understands consent. The misunderstanding of consent is one of the big reasons that district attorneys and federal prosecutors don't bring rape cases. Juries are full of people, like Mr. Banda, who don't understand consent so convictions are difficult to obtain. Second, although Mr. Banda determined that he could not conclude one way or the other, the outcome of his decision was identical to a determination that the contact was consensual and so was essentially that conclusion. The third item of interest here is actually the most important: no one was asking him to determine whether the contact was consensual or not. That wasn't the complaint. The complaint was about how the district staff utterly failed to comply with the procedure, policy, regulation, and law. He didn't even address the central question of the complaint. Instead, he chose to focus on an area in which he has no expertise.

• February 2014:

The School Board held a hearing in February 2014. The Board conducted a hearing and considered roughly 200 pages of materials provided by the parents and the District’s investigative report. The School Board upheld the decision of the Superintendent.

Again, the School Board addressed themselves to the wrong question. Again, the outcome of the inconclusive determination is identical to the outcome of a conclusion that the contact was consensual, so it was, in essence, a determination that the contact was consensual. Again, the District, when asked to examine itself and its compliance simply refused to do so.

• August 2014:

The parents have appealed the School Board’s decision to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. A hearing is scheduled on that appeal for November 2014. On August 25, 2014 the parents submitted a formal claim to the District, seeking financial damages. This is the first step toward litigation.

Have you noticed how the District's narrative keeps talking about "the parents"? Have you noticed how their narrative makes "the parents" the prime actors? Kinda makes it seem like "the parents" are a couple of malcontent agitators, doesn't it? And now we learn that they are aiming for a big legal settlement - you know, like the one the district had to pay out for an earlier sexual assault on a student. The District's narrative doesn't talk much about the student. It really pulls the attention off her and puts it on her parents. The female student is referenced six times in this narrative. Three of them occur in the first section. Only once is she referenced as the actor in the sentence - when she tells about being raped. After that she only appears as the object of an action, The student's parents are referenced twelve times, eight times as the actor in the sentence. They are made to appear much more active, but not in a very flattering way.


The District continues to learn from this incident and take steps to make our schools safer for students.

What a funny thing for them to write. There is nothing in this narrative that speaks to making schools safer for students. Not one word. From this narrative it's clear that the District's goal is to evade liability and litigation.  The best way to do that, of course, would be to comply with the rules.

Changes to District procedures

Changes to District procedures on field trips, critical incident response and Title IX complaints can be found here.

Go read them. The efforts are both feeble and misguided. There are no published district procedures for field trips. I can't find them. The Critical Incident Response is a PR plan. The District hasn't changed anything about their procedures regarding Title IX complaints other than the officials who are supposed to get them. They had to do that because the previous Title IX officer retired. They have done nothing. Certainly nothing substantive.

The central question remains: Was the District's response to a sexual harassment complaint compliant with the procedure, policy, regulation, and law? Will their future response be compliant?

So long as Board President Peaslee, or Dr. Nyland, or Ron English, or anyone else from the District address themselves to any question other than this central question, they aren't getting it.


"Again, the School Board addressed themselves to the wrong question. "

Yes and that's troubling. Because the Board, when in the hearing and realizing that they were NOT addressing their oversight area, someone should have stopped and said, "No, I won't consider this."

Because, as Charlie says, the issue for the district and the Board is not the crime, but the role of the District, before and after in following its own rules.

Had the district followed its own policies and procedures on this trip, before and after?

I'm not sure the evidence is there that they did.

And, if I were a Board person, I would not allow Legal to tell me, an elected official, what my job was. In fact, I would have requested outside counsel (and the district pays for this all the time) to review this issue, not internal counsel.

Also, that 504? It was given and the reason listed (initially and signed off on) was based on PTSD because of a rape. So the district, at some point,thought this girl had been raped at some point by some one.

I really believe that the district is trying to whitewash this incident, they know they didn't follow their own rules (or Title IX law) and there are many who live in fear that the parents of the victim will NOT just settle out of court.

Maybe the only way this kind of thing will not happen again is a public airing of the entire thing. Again, it won't be about the crime but the duty of the district to do its best to protect students.

Anonymous said…
A good summary Charlie. The issue isn't whether or not a rape occurred.

The issue is whether 1) field trip rules were in place and followed. The answer is clearly NO.

2) Whether Title IX procedures were in place and followed. Again, the answer is clearly NO.

Everything else is extraneous.


As I keep saying, the Feds need to throw the book at the District. Publicly.


Anonymous said…
P.S. The latest college to be investigated for Title IX noncompliance in the area of sexual assault? Johns Hopkins. It made the news yesterday.

The family needs to write to the reporter who covered the story for the New York Times and see if they can get the reporter to cover the issue at the high school level. Maybe Seattle making the pages of a national publication as the posterchild of noncompliance will shame the district administration and board into an actual public apology and tangible steps to keep all our kids safe.

And Paul Apostle was never trained as "Director" Carr kicked that audit finding down the road, repeatedly. Any accountability there?. Peaslee should focus on the real problems here. Staff and Carr should be held accountable for their actions.
Title IX Concerns said…

You raise legitimate questions regarding Title IX. However, I believe there are greater issues around Title XI investigations. I would refocus my energy on this issue and refrain from attacking the board.

There are ongoing investigations and I believe the board will perform due-diligence, and deal with the issue.

I also think Banda got out of town because he knew the sh#$ was about to hit the fan.

Anonymous said…
Thank you, Charlie. This one line explains so much.
"It is the District that is under investigation now, not the boy."

People who are focusing on the boy are trying to deflect attention away from their own culpability. I guess I'm just slow.
Chris S
StringCheese said…
I'm reposting a link originally put up by Mirmac1:


If you really want to get your ire up, take a look at how the District ignored or reframed the very questions Charlie is referring to regarding policy, procedure, and law. You see, if you word things just so , then your investigator can justify saying that no failures occurred.

For those who don't have the time or energy to look at the 300 pages of documents, here is the gist:

Since no one said, "I'm going to not follow policy and procedure so that a girl can get raped" then No Harm/No Foul! Don't you see? It's brilliant! It was all a terrible accident for which no one can be blamed because the intent was never to cause harm.

From the Response linked to above:

"Besides ignoring critical personnel and components of our staff complaint (including the District's own documents that demonstrate culpability), the Reports emphasize mitigating circumstances and excuses: unfamiliarity with procedures, lack of training, miscommunications, lapses, and assumptions. The Reports wants us to conclude that although established procedures were ignored, there was no intentional misconduct, therefore all are exonerated and none need be held accountable."

The question should be, "Was proper policy and procedure followed?" Of course, the answers will always be NO. But wait! That would be an admission of liability and we can't have that.

Imagine if this kind of logic applied to manslaughter caused by drunk drivers. Unless you went into the bar with the sole purpose of drinking too much so that you would get in your car and kill someone, then NO PROBLEM! It's just a horrible accident for which no one is responsible!

That is not something that we, as a society, can accept. Why is the Board accepting that nonsense here?

I grew up with the phrase "Ignorance of the law is no excuse."
Anonymous said…
I am often on the other side of the fence from the viewpoints on this blog, but I have to give you all the credit in the world for keeping this issue alive. It is Exhibit A for how a bureaucracy should NOT handle an issue and provides another head-shaking example of the clusterf*** that is going on with central admin. Keep up the pressure and spelling it out for those of us who aren't so knowledgeable about how things work (or don't work) at SPS. Thank you!!

-Floss Your Brain
Aghast, your point made me realize that the girl's family doesn't necessarily have a full-out court battle. The district can still get a public scolding from the feds. That would be something at least.

Title IX, you are entitled to your opinion but the Board has its own role to play in this.

"..ongoing investigations..." What investigations are you speaking of? Title IX? Civil rights? the district?

I also concur that Banda got out of town to avoid this issue (and I think Apostle did as well).
SPSmomof2 said…
What an excellent critical analysis of this issue, Charlie. I really appreciate your investigation into this.
Anonymous said…

Would you pls. Wrap your fine brain around the fact that we apparently now have "Critical Incident a response Plan" and the fact that the FIRST thing the District did was to fire off emails and start framing the issues rather than take the victim to the Hospital for a rape examination and kit?

And how a new event will somehow be handled differently?

Thank you in advance.

Puffin said…
Well done, Charlie!

The District legal team has viewed this as a liability matter from day 1. In their minds, crisis management = liability management. Accountability be damned.

That's why the District communications obsessively repeat "no charges were filed." Because in the minds of a lot of people "no charges were filed" means "it didn't happen." If it didn't happen, then it doesn't matter if the chaperoning was abysmal, that safety procedures were ignored, that district policies were ignored, and that no one had the faintest idea about Title IX regulations.

It also implies that the victim lied about being attacked, that all of the medical and mental health professionals who treated her were deceived, and that the parents are raving crazies for making an issue of this.

The whole point of "no charges were filed" is to make the District look blameless and unjustly beset upon.

And they're hoping that most people will buy that.
mirmac1 said…
Unfortunately, I see that this travesty is just a logical outcome of the past and current bull crap shitstorm we hear about "governance" - Board, you have this box and you can't step outside that box with out being accused of overreaching, damaging the district, acting outside your expertise, bullying etc etc.

In a similar (but not) manner, we witnessed the board being told you can and cannot do X or Y re: the math adoption. Staff said "here is the question before you and we will provide you nothing else to enable you conclude anything else."

Their legal counsel will stand there and lie to their faces. What is their recourse? Hire an outside counsel who is not beholden to Ron English? Good luck with that. I have seen so many crap legal analyses prepared by these $250/hr clowns that essentially parrot English's party line. And they would still lose without any consequence.

But who cares! No one is going to fault these folks with an ethics violation. Ethics does not seem to be in their vocabulary (unless it is useful to achieve their ends).

Guess what I found out recently. You know all those high-level "Superintendent Cabinet" meetings where decisions like program placement, capacity, reforms du jour, etc are discussed. Gee, they don't keep minutes... Yes. These overpriced folks sit around, discuss, and make major decisions without any record (so they say).

I think the board should vote to waive attorney-client privilege to expose this stinking pile of offal.
Anonymous said…
Melissa and Others,

This is first and foremost about the negligence that allowed a sexual assault to occur. Principals signed off on the trip without a male chaperone, teachers and so-called chaperones never read the rules. Teachers abdicated their responsibilities and slept in a distant location to enjoy themselves. The message that the public needs to get is that THIS COULD HAPPEN TO THEIR CHILD--and guess what--victims are coming forward with their stories too. We were very clear in our documents saying we don't need the District to tell us what happened that night when our daughter was raped. We knew she was and so did the medical professionals. From the inception, our complaint was always about the negligent chaperoning that could allow a predatory student with a history of sexual misconduct to rape. We only learned of Title IX from OSPI--when the District should have immediately informed us. Thankfully the Title IX complaint turned national attention on this story. But the first and foremost issue is the deplorable negligence that allowed for an easily preventable assault.

Melissa, the school transfer was granted with rape as the basis. The district knows she was raped. The assailant admitted it to the investigators and the District read the report.

Charles is correct in what he wrote.

Parents, but you have to consider that either you got that school transfer based on you telling Enrollment there was a rape (and them finding out the district didn't agree) OR the district might say, "well, she could have been raped but not on this date by this person."

Again, any way to get away from the central issue of not following policy.
Charlie Mas said…
Every District official - Board, Superintendent, Assistant superintendents, Executive Directors, and program managers should be confronted at every opportunity about compliance with procedure, policy, regulation, and law. In this case and in every case. They need to learn that even if they don't care about compliance, the public does.
Charlie Mas said…
I have seen the Critical Incident Response Plan. I requested a copy and got it. I read it. It is a PR plan. It is not a plan for taking the right action, but a plan for managing the District's image in the media.

Those who are interested should read the minutes of the Audit Committee. Read the minutes from March 2014 in particular. The agenda for that meeting includes the audit response log, which lists all of the required actions from past audits which have not yet been taken. You'll notice that Mr. Apostle had a lot of incomplete assignments that had extended deadlines twice - most recently to September 2014, three months after his retirement.

Also, please read the response to the OSPI Consolidated Program Review. Starting on page 82 you'll find the issues that are relevant to this case. There you'll get a sense of the depth of the non-compliance. You'll also note that for all of their talk about how important this is to the Board and the senior staff and for all of the talk about how committed they are to fixing it, they are overdue with their work. If they really cared about it, they would do the work.

Oh and please, please, please, read the sexual harassment policy and procedure and see what they require. Read that and you'll begin to get a sense for how dismally the District performed - and continues to perform. The policy calls for an annual report. If the Board really cared about this, then why haven't they demanded that report? The policy is three years old and there has yet to be a single annual report.
Charlie Mas said…
No one in Seattle Public Schools has paid more than lip service to addressing the District's failures around sexual harassment and sexual assault.
suep. said…
Charlie -- You are incorrect about this point.
Charlie Mas said…
suep - then correct me.
mirmac1 said…
I believe Sue is in a better position to know about this Charlie, but is not at liberty to say at this time.
Anonymous said…

Did you see the Al-Jazeera story on the District in July. National news. Stay tuned, something is brewing. . . .
good tip on NY times!

Anonymous said…

the school transfer was granted with the garfield rape as the basis, not any old unspecified rape. request the oct. 18, 2103 report and you'll see the transfer document

A 504 plan was granted because of debilitating PTSD from the garfield rape with medical/drs verification. The district inexplicably withdrew the plan probably because it demonstrated that a rape occurred. The district wouldn't give us the signed plan but we discovered it recently through a public information request. The district is under investigation for violation of 504 for many other reasons as well.

Charlie Mas said…
If Sue can't correct me, then she can't say that I'm incorrect. I actually have a lot of information, directly from the family. I have had access to all of the documents and reports. I'm not buying the claim that there's some secret information somewhere that exonerates the district's failure to follow policy, procedure, regulation, and law.
mirmac1 said…
Sue is not saying there is information that exonerates the district. I read her comment to mean that it is incorrect to say: "No one in Seattle Public Schools has paid more than lip service..." The matter remains open and I believe that more actions and remedies are in the works.
Charlie Mas said…
"are in the works" - these are things that will be done in the future - maybe.

"has been done" - these are things from the past.

Nothing has been done. That doesn't mean that nothing ever will be done, only that nothing has been done in the past twenty-two months.

The claim that something may be done in the future does not make false the statement that nothing has been done to date.
mirmac1 said…
I believe the more stringent overnight chaperoning requirements came about because of this travesty of justice. Unfortunately, staff at JSCEE think that, just because they edited a procedure and posted it somewhere (where most of us can't see it), that somehow building staff either know or care about it. Further proof of downtown's irrelevance.

I heard about this change just short of a year ago at an A&F meeting. I made sure to tell the staff at my child's school. They had no clue. Recently, a different building's staff told me they don't agree with it.

Sorry. Compliance is not an option. Except when there is no consequence for failing to comply then...who cares, right?
Irresponsible Charlie said…
Charlie says: " I actually have a lot of information, directly from the family. "

Do you have information from both families?
mirmac1 said…
Irresponsible etc,

There is information from the perpetrator himself. It's good enough for me.

Still i believe in a different course of action - one that leads to the best outcome for the victim and leads to English's departure.
Anonymous said…
I have to think about whether it is helpful or unhelpful to have a sitting SPS board director (Sue P) get involved in this blog post.

But respectfully, it is not helpful to have other bloggers (Mirmac) offer translations of her comments. We don't need self-appointed interpreters when the situation is already complex and Mirmac has offered many of his/her own thoughts on the issue.

Seen It
mirmac1 said…
I'm no translator. I merely state how I take something to mean. Just like I think No means No, not maybe. Or how I take everything coming out of English's mouth to be an untruth. You are welcome to form your own opinion of her words, and completely disregard what I have to offer. And I mean that respectfully.
Charlie Mas said…
Irresponsible Charlie:

Yes. Both families.

Now don't you have a question from me to answer?

Popular posts from this blog

Tuesday Open Thread

Who Is A. J. Crabill (and why should you care)?

Why the Majority of the Board Needs to be Filled with New Faces