Thursday, July 19, 2018

The District and Union Both Have a Problem: Exhibit A - Muir Elementary

I reported here about the alleged rape of a child at Muir Elementary during school year 2016-2017 by an IA, Albert C. Virachismith.  The child said nothing to his parents until the next year when that IA had been moved to another school.

I'll just state outright - unions, especially teachers and police - need to stop protecting bad actors.  Yes, follow protections in the union contract of how a member is supported when being called less-than-effective.  But the level of the support should be a minimum when you have a member who clearly needs to be exited.  When all the proof is in and the person is given the opportunity to change and doesn't, then that person should then be exited from the job.

The Times had a recent article on this story which adds new information that presents a real challenge to both the district and the union because both could have made different choices that could have protected this child.  I believe both should provide a clear explanation of why they proceeded as they did (but they won't).

I'll try to condense the Times story AND add in what a trusted source has told me.  (The Times article has several links to district documents.
  • Virachismith started working for the district in 2014 as an IA.  He worked for two years at MLK,Jr. Elementary before going to John Muir Elementary for the school year 2016-2017.
  • The Times does not have personnel reports on Virachismith for MLK, Jr. Elementary but does for Muir for 2016-2107.  It's pretty shocking reading and it's hard to understand how he was kept on.  
“He does not follow District policies by coming to work with an overwhelming odor of alcohol."
I can understand if someone is an alcoholic but even so, that person cannot be around children at a school if he has been drinking. Ever. 
He got "unsatisfactory" marks on every single section of his review.  From those who had to work with him - OT, PT, Sped teacher - not one good thing was said.  They question his judgment, his interaction with children and his reliability to do his job and be at his job.
  • At the end of school year 2016-2017, the district sought to fire him but SEA filed a grievance challenging that.  The district then agreed to allow him to keep working but as a sub for school year 2017-2018.   (At that time, the child rape issue was not known to the district.) He could work in any school but Muir.
  • That rehire agreement was termed "Last Chance Settlement Agreement."   This agreement was signed by three district staff and Vairachismith in September 2017.  It appears that Virachismith violated the terms of his rehire by failing urine tests and required counseling but the district still didn't fire him.
  • During 2017-2018,  he subbed at seven schools - Bailey Gatzert, Mercer, Aki Kurose, Van Asselt, Denny, Orca and Washington. 
  • In January 2018, the district created a letter, telling him he was fired because of his failure to complete a drug treatment program and, that in November 2017, a drug treatment counselor had said he tested positive for alcohol use.   It's unclear whether that letter was ever sent as it was marked "draft." 
  • In early Feb. 2018, he was arrested by SPD and charged with raping a second-grader at Muir repeatedly during the 2016-2017 school year.  SPD is trying to investigate whether he may have done this to other children from when he started in SPS in 2014.  Families at schools where he worked were notified about this issue.  It is unclear if any other families who were  notified have contacted the district or SPD about their child.
As to what I have learned from a valued source, there is more to the story.  The Times reports what the SPD report states:

“The defendant, because of his professional role, was well aware of the rule that only one student was allowed in the bathroom,” the documents say. “The defendant knew that the young victim would be alone and isolated in the bathroom. This knowledge allowed and empowered the defendant to sexually assault the second grader uninterrupted and undetected.”

So ,Virachismith was an IA and so allowed to take a child alone to the bathroom.  But my source tells me that the principal at Muir, Brenda Cuthbertson, appears to have not followed district guidelines about elementary students and bathrooms.  Namely, that bathroom use should be done on the buddy system so no kid is alone in the bathroom.  Naturally, as an IA, Virachismith didn't have to bring another child but if this policy had been enforced, it might have made a difference.  (And, it's yet another example of principals who get to go their own way on district policies.)

As well, it appears that Principal Cuthbertson may not have done mandatory Title IX trainings with staff for nearly two years and tried to get it done in June of 2017.  Again, you might have to wonder if that might have made a difference if Virachismith knew that these kinds of issues were of top importance at Muir.

Lastly, there was a different kind of drama going on at Muir at the same time that may have had Cuthbertson's attention. It seems there was a conflict between a cafeteria worker and the guardian of a child.  The guardian perceived the cafeteria worker was racist because she refused to allow kids to bring in backpacks.  My understanding is backpacks are not allowed in the cafeteria because kids drop them anywhere and someone could trip over them.  But the guardian perceived the cafeteria worker thought kids of color might steal food.

Somehow this continued on for months with the cafeteria worker requesting the guardian not come into the cafeteria.  I believe at some point the legal system got involved (the worker asked for a restraining order) and, for whatever reason, Cuthbertson allowed at least four staff (and maybe more) to leave school for a day to go to King County Court to testify against the cafeteria worker.  (I believe the worker asked for and received a settlement to leave with no acknowledgment of any wrongdoing on her part.)

I would guess that Virachismith may have felt some confidence in what he was doing because the principal seemed to be quite involved elsewhere.

My understanding is the family of the child who was attacked wants privacy and we can all appreciate that feeling.

But to look at this episode is to wonder - where are the adults?  Or rather, where are the adults who seem to be more worried about CYA than protecting students?  Because there is no looking at this chain of events - where there were several times that he could have taken out of the system and given a desk job if that's what it took to protect kids - and believing that SEA or the district did right by kids.

It is absolutely true that if he had been taken out of the system sooner, that child would not have been raped.  I certainly hope that it is not proven that he did this to any other child.

I hope the Board thoroughly investigates this and asks for change.

Because by protecting adults, the protections for children got lost.


Anonymous said...

The bottom line is that both the union and district prioritized the needs and interests of adults over children.

Not just any children, but our most vulnerable children - disabled at a high needs school, 69% FRL.

In addition to the horrific abuse - that could have been prevented if the union and district prioritized children, the child lost at least a year's worth of learning and therapy, because this guy was not doing the essential focus of his job -implementing and monitoring the IEP goals.

So where was SEA's and the district's commitment to equity?

The status quo of protecting the inner ranks that intensely rankles some about police unions is the same issue with teacher unions. According to SEA's FAQ, the reason for becoming a member is you're given legal protection if charged by a crime.

I'm not anti-union, but I will be if the union doesn't take this opportunity to change their policies. I'm not interested in any status-quo solutions.

Read the attached article on CA where both Randi Weingarten and the LAUSD Superintendent agree that while due process is needed, it also should be easier to fire the bad apples.


If you have the stomach for it, read the LA Times story on LAUSD. The taxpayers are being fleeced to pay salaries for some incompetent and criminal teachers, and, just like the Vatican, there were instances of sexual predators being moved to other schools instead of fired.

Ultimately, children are being harmed and the taxpayers are paying the salaries and lawsuits, so why shouldn't we have a say in how union tenure and termination policies are structured.



David Westberg said...

The board was and has been well aware of the events surrounding the cafeteria worker and the failure of Muir's principal to act in any way to protect her as they concluded there was no substance to her harassment/bullying/socio-economic discrimination (she was "only"a cafeteria worker) complaint and denied her appeal last July. She had to move out of state to escape with sizeable (tax dollar) settlement. A mother of 4 Seattle Schools students. That's how 'nobodies get treated by the 'somebodies' at SSD.

David Westberg said...

Under the current construct where principals make up the own rules, the Muir boys bathroom rule was only one that deviated from overall policies (Board, superintendent OR administrative) at that school. Rather than enforce those policies, headquarters administrators consistantly back principals.

The DISTRICT bears the blame for tragic events such as these. The Board consistently scapegoats workers at the lowest economic strata. Not "unions" in general.

McBee said...

The "backpack rule" was not a District rule or guideline but a "Muir rule" concocted by the Principal. When the Kitchen Manager tried to enforce it she was ultimately run out of the District (four staff sent to testify against her?!). Similarly the one child in the rest room was a "Muir rule".

It Happens said...

It is not uncommon for students to steal food from each other. Very difficult for the kid that is afraid of being bullied.

It Happens said...

I am not saying anyone was stealing food, in this particular case. Only noting how difficult it is to watch a student try and eat lunch, and have other students take their food.

Melissa Westbrook said...

It happens, okay but that wasn’t the real issue here.

Elsa said...

Kids cause other kids to spill when they wear backpacks in serving lines or sweep followers meals off plates entirely.

Not helping another employee when they repeatedly ask for assistance is an adult problem most prevalent at Muir.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking back to my own days of elementary school and trying to understand this (maybe schools have changed drastically since then): Why would anyone need to bring backpacks in the first place? Where would a policy even come from?

I moved around a lot as a kid and no elementary school had backpacks in the cafeteria. No student would want them. You grabbed your lunch from home if you brought one, but otherwise you left your stuff in the classroom. Same as you would leave them when going to PE or music or whatever. Is there something I'm missing?

-Pragmatic Xennial

Lunch Helper said...

Yes, I'm stumped by this as well. I've witnessed lunch in several SPS cafeterias and have never seen kids bringing backpacks to lunch. Always just their lunch boxes that they bring from home brought to the lunchroom from the classroom all together by class in some kind of large bin or basket or the students get in the line to get hot lunch. At some schools the students have recess before lunch and certainly don't take their backpacks to recess. But even when they have lunch first and then recess, they don't bring their backpacks.

Anonymous said...

It's very clear that Virachismith should have been exited much sooner and there seems to be no excuse for his continued employment. I think missing from this discussion is the general difficulty districts are having finding and retaining qualified IAs at the same time there are increasing expectations for more inclusion and increased rigorand for students with SpEd needs. Schools need IAs to accomplish those goals. I don't know the entire thought process in this particular case but it may have been a factor.

People demand a lot from our schools when it's realistically not entirely possible to do everything. How to solve this issue? For one, pay needs to increase-by a lot.

NW Parent

Anonymous said...

I was appalled to learn that "At the end of school year 2016-2017, the district sought to fire him but SEA filed a grievance challenging that." For me, SEA loses a lot of credibility when they care more about protecting a union member than they do about protecting children.


Anonymous said...

To NW Parent's point, the current SPS job description for a SPED IA lists minimal pay and minimal education equivalent to an associate's degree. Shockingly, no relevant work experience is required although previous work with children is preferred.

The IAs I've seen in classrooms (admittedly a small sample size, so I'm not generalizing to all) seemed frustrated and inexperienced about how to effectively work with the behaviors associated with some disabilities.

Has there ever been a SPED task force and why doesn't the Equity policy include disability?


Melissa Westbrook said...

Samar, I believe there has been a Sped task force but I'll check. Your second question is excellent.

Anonymous said...

As I posted on the Supt. Juneau thread, the equity policy DOES include disability.

That doesn’t say anything about implementation, but as far as the policy (0030) goes, it’s in there.

@ Samar—what, specifically, do you mean when you say the policy doesn’t include disability? Are you referring to a specific policy document, or something else?

All types