Another Week, Another Pack of Clueless School Officials
Two stories this week deserve some follow-up: one that's pretty light-hearted, and the other ...much less so.
Let's start with the comedy; both stories are from True's 13 May 2012 issue:
Weekly Weird News
Freak of Nomenclature, Property Tax Division
The Rutherford County, Tenn., Property Assessor says he "cannot talk about it," but rejects allegations that he has been sexually harassing his staff. Two women, aged 54 and 70, say they were fired in retaliation to complaining about the 73-year-old assessor's advances. After one incident, the woman confronted him, but he shrugged it off. "You don't know what you said?" she asked him. "No. I have no idea," he replied. "When I talk to you, I don't ever think much, I just keep saying it." A state panel agrees the women were fired in retaliation, and awarded them unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, the assessor has announced he will continue his re-election campaign. His name is Bill Boner. (RC/Murfreesboro Post, Murfreesboro Daily News Journal) ...If you think this treatment of the story is bad, you should see the tabloid and blog headlines!
Of course, the tagline begs the question: like what?
Boner Sticks It Out In Face of Sexual Harassment Complaints
Man With Surname of 'Boner' Does Something Newsworthy
Virtually all of the "minor media" outlets used his name in the headline.
Even the Murfreesboro Post got into the act. Managing Editor Michelle Willard told a journalism forum that she had her staff "get all of the cheesy headlines out of their system" working on the story. Their efforts included:
Boner Says Women Faking It
Female Workers Say Boner Intimidated Them
Boner Taking It Hard
"We had a lot of fun with it in the last week," Willard said.
The Darker Story
But yeah, there was another story this week, and it really riled me:
No, Really — It's the 21st Century (Part 935)
The high school wrestling team from tiny Norwood, Colo. (population about 450), advanced to the state championships, and a busload of students headed to Denver for the competition. At one point four students were left unsupervised on the school bus. Three of the boys, aged 14-16, cornered the fourth, 13, carried him to a more private location, taped his wrists and ankles, and raped him with a hard object. Despite legal requirements to report the incident, the school's superintendent admits officials did not do so; the boy's parents called police when he got home and told them what happened. With that, the three boys were suspended from school — for one day. School officials also "discussed" whether the victim should have been suspended too. Once Denver prosecutors caught wind of the case, they arrested the three assailants. They have been charged with kidnap, false imprisonment, and "sexual intrusion for the purpose of abuse." The school's students and parents are outraged — not at the criminals, but at the victim and his parents for reporting the assault. (RC/Telluride Watch) ...Yeah: he probably "asked for it" by being younger and smaller.
This kind of assault is disturbing enough as it is. That the school officials tried to pass it off as some sort of "boys will be boys" hijinks is really outrageous (I told you a similar story last year.) This is why there are "duty to report" laws in most states for those working with kids: if they have the slightest reason to even suspect the sexual or physical abuse of children they work with, they're required by law to report it to law enforcement. In Colorado, the requirement is for both oral reporting ("call the police") and a written report. School officials failed at that, and should be prosecuted for that failure. And it should result in jail time.
Colorado led the nation in making "zero tolerance" not only policy, but law -- a law that was in place well before the Columbine High School shootings (in Colorado, in 1999). The solution to ZT isn't ignoring actual crimes, it's using common sense. How could those officials fail here? They get specific training in the "duty to report" laws. I'm just a part-time volunteer EMT, and I've been given that training!
I know Norwood. I've been there many times: the high school is only about an hour from my house, not too far from tony Telluride. It's a small community; most people in town know, or at least know of, most of the other people in town. In an editorial titled Do the Right Thing, the Telluride Watch newspaper noted that "it is widely acknowledged that similar incidents, clearly crossing any reasonable line, have occurred in Norwood in the recent past, making it impossible to shrug this one off -- extreme as it evidently was -- as an isolated incident."
I call that escalation. When school officials didn't do anything about it, they tacitly agreed with what was going on -- and naturally it got worse.
But here's where it gets really ugly. The CBS station in Denver reported (and the Watch reprinted, here), that the alleged victim's father is a school official. Worse, Norwood School Board President Robert Harris doubles as head wrestling coach at Norwood schools, and has four sons on the team!
In the same story, the paper notes that at a meeting to discuss the case, 70 people showed up, and "The crowd seemed to be separated by an unseen cultural divide wider than Gurley Gulch, which separates the Hitchin’ Post from Two Candles, Norwood eating and drinking establishments patronized by conservative and liberal members of the community, respectively."
Good god: is this a petty "us vs them" political fight? Could the coach be on one side of the political spectrum, and the victim's family -- led by a fellow school official -- be on the other? If that's the case, which side, exactly, is willing to sacrifice young children and look the other way at ass rape to show they're "better" than the other? And remember, we're not just talking school officials here: parents are taking sides too!
Incredible. But that's the way it looks from that not-too-subtle wording.
The newspaper reports (here) that "A receptionist for Norwood School District attorney Darryl Farrington was instructed to not put a reporter's message through to his voicemail," and that "In addition to Norwood, Farrington lists Telluride, Ridgway and Ouray districts among his clients."
Ridgway. That's the district I live in. Not surprising -- small towns have to share resources -- but now I'm wondering where the Ridgway School Board stands about this. As it happens, our local (Ridgway-based) newspaper published a letter to the editor from my wife and me last week, where we called for the Ridgway School Board to be "on notice" that we supported their replacement or a lawsuit against them for refusing to turn over documents to our newspaper -- documents used and referred to in open public meetings and required by law to be released to any citizen who requests them. What are they hiding? What is wrong in small town Colorado school districts?
Small town politics ("All politics are local" after all) are supposed to be "transparent" -- and when they're not, even going so far as to defy the law, we mere civilians start to wonder about what's being hidden. In Norwood, what was being hidden was coming to light -- "widely acknowledged similar incidents" that exploded into public view when sexual abuse went way, Way, WAY too far. So down the road in Ridgway, I have to wonder what's being hidden here. Another pedophile teacher? We had one arrested in Ridgway some years ago, before I moved here. Unlikely, I know, but that's the kind of suspicion that's reasonable when public officials hold themselves above the public, saying we have no right to know. And especially reasonable when you find out something like school-related rape is being swept under the rug in the next county.
And despite those "widely acknowledged similar incidents" in Norwood, nothing was done until a real crisis happened. A young boy is going to suffer for life, not "just" because of what happened with those other boys, but because he knows school officials did nothing when he told them what happened to him. The assailants -- part of the right clique, which he obviously wasn't -- got a slap on the wrist (a one-day suspension!), and then he gets to learn that those school officials in authority over him had pondered punishing him, too, apparently for allowing himself to be tied up and raped by three older, larger boys.
October 2012 Update
Norwood school superintendent Dave Crews has addressed the rape of a student ...by instituting a new "Code of Conduct" for schools.
Apparently the old one didn't make it clear that raping other students is prohibited, and that school officials are required to do something about it if it does happen.
“What we wanted to do was tighten up how we addressed discipline," Crews said. “So we looked at a few different code of conducts, some from other states and some from other districts in the state, and just tightened up what our process is.”
The Norwood Post reported this month that two of the students involved in the rape have pleaded guilty — to third-degree assault. Since assault is not a sex crime, they apparently will not have to register as sex offenders. Another student awaits trial. “For sure some of that incident had to do with re-looking at things and addressing the discipline a little bit differently,” Crews said.
Yet there was no mention of school officials being prosecuted for "failure to report" the sex assault to police when it happened, as required by law. By "addressing discipline," apparently Crews only meant whether students should receive in-school or out-of-school suspensions when they break the rules. “There’s a balance there that we need to continue to look at,” Crews said. “We don’t do in-school in a lot of cases, like in fights, but there is also some discretion. There’s also some case issues and we need to continue to look at that and continue to adjust and make the right choices.”
Yep: everything is the students' fault. The coaches and other school officials are apparently blameless in Crews' eyes.
Back to student discipline: when there is "any written or verbal expression, or physical or electronic act or gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to coerce, intimidate, or cause any physical, mental or emotional harm to any student,” the new Code of Conduct notes, a first offense results in a “bullying threat assessment evaluation.”
Let's just hope that includes staff.
But nothing is set in stone. Crews says it's a "fluid document" that will change as various rules are "tested".
How about simply complying with the law? How about making it clear that school staff is held accountable?
What a fine example of sweeping the truth under the rug.
January 2013 Update
The nearby Telluride Watch weekly newspaper named this story one of the local "Top Ten" stories of last year. I don't find the story online, but I do pick up that paper when I see it, and there was an update in the 6 December issue too (which I also don't find online).
The highlights from those two updates:
The third rapist, now 15, who was noted as "awaiting trial" in the previous update, has also now pleaded guilty to one count of "sexual contact/no consent," a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to "ongoing" probation, 50 hours of community service, participation in a "victim empathy class," participation in a "boundaries" group, and join with the other two boys in paying $2,892.20 in restitution, which will be divided by the Crime Victim Compensation program, and the victim's family "to help reimburse" them for "out-of-pocket expenses."
It was noted again that the other two boys, age 16 and 17, pleaded guilty to third-degree assault. They were sentenced to two years of probation, 50 hours of community service, and payment toward the restitution. One was ordered to participate in a "restorative justice program" and the other to go through the "victim empathy class" and the "boundaries" group.
As part of the plea bargains, charges of kidnap, sexual assault, and false imprisonment were dismissed. As they were all juveniles, none of the assailants were named by the media.
Notice anything important missing here? I sure do: what about the crime of failure to report this incident to the police? That's what school officials are required by law to do when they're informed of a sexual assault. As my original story notes, "the school's superintendent admits officials did not do so." But as far as I can tell, there have never been any charges filed against any of the school officials who failed the victim by keeping the rape quiet.
The paper noted that after the crime became public, students had t-shirts made reading "Team TTH" (TTH being the first initials of the three rapists -- three older, larger, stronger boys who had to team up to defeat and humiliate a 13-year-old.)
Denver County law enforcement officials did the right thing: when they learned of the crime, they took immediate and firm action. San Miguel County law enforcement officials utterly failed at enforcing the law by apparently ignoring the crime committed by the adults in the cover-up. They share the shame of the "Team TTH" in making life easier for rapists, and harder for their victims.
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