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 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.