Parents Assail CUSD Over Molest Claims SanTan Sun News

Parents Assail CUSD Over Molest Claims

October 8th, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
Parents Assail CUSD Over Molest Claims
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By Jim Walsh And Colleen Sparks

Staff

The parents of a 10-year-old Tarwater Elementary fifth-grader who said she was sexually harassed and touched inappropriately by a male student are upset about the Chandler Unified School District’s use of a standard form to report the incidents to police.

They criticized the CUSD officials at a school board meeting last week, saying the district minimally complied with the state’s mandatory sex crimes reporting law when it sent a one-paragraph, handwritten form to Chandler police.

But such a serious incident involving minors required a more robust response, the parents said. At a minimum, the principal should have called police and had an officer respond to the school, they said.

Instead, the parents called police themselves after concluding the district did not take the incident seriously enough.

The form said that the victim and a witness claimed the boy made several inappropriate, sexually-oriented statements, including, “I want to have sex with her under the table’’ on Aug. 2. The girl also reported that the same boy had touched her chest earlier in the same week.

Chandler police are investigating the case, with a sex crimes detective planning to interview the girl to learn more about what happened, said Sgt. Dan Mejia, a Chandler Police spokesman.

Although submitting the form electronically complied with the mandatory reporting law’s requirements, “It is obviously preferred if they call right away,’’ Mejia said. “It would have expedited it.’’

He said if the principal had called police, the issue would have become a higher priority. An officer would have been sent to the school to take a report instead of requiring police to look through a pile of emails to determine if a report needs further investigation.

Franklin Narducci, assistant superintendent for elementary education, wrote the girls’ parents that Tarwater Principal Diane Hale followed the department’s policy correctly by reporting the incidents to police electronically.

“Going forward, Ms. Hale will follow up the electronic report with a follow-up call to the police department,’’ Narducci said. He also wrote that the boy accused of harassing and touching the girl had been transferred to a different teacher.

Narducci also wrote to all parents of Tarwater fifth-graders, saying the school was increasing supervision of students in a variety of ways. The East Valley Tribune is not identifying the girl or her parents because she is a minor and may be considered a sex crime victim at some point.

The girl’s father said he was dissatisfied with the district’s response. He said sending in a standard form electronically to police is not adequate to address such a serious matter and that the principal should have called the police.

He said no counseling was offered or provided by the district for his daughter and that the boy’s behavior also shows that he needs counseling on how to treat girls. The father said he is concerned about the boy’s behavior getting even worse without adequate intervention.

“She was sexually harassed and she was touched. We thought we had a resolution,’’ the father said.

But he later learned that the “police report’’ that the principal described to him was just a standard district form – not an actual police document – and that it was necessary for the family to contact police on their own to receive adequate attention.

“I lose all trust in the staff and the administration,’’ he said.

The girl’s mother said, “What I am most upset about is there are no consequences for the boy who harassed my daughter and touched her.’’

Several other parents have spoken at the last two board meetings about disciplinary problems at Tarwater and a lack of consequences for the students who are responsible. Another mother, Kassidy Harstad, said her son, a fourth-grader, was bullied by another student who threatened to shoot him with a pellet gun.

“I am asking that teachers and administrators take threats like the ones to my child seriously,’’ Harstad said. “You guys can do better.’’

Board members are not allowed to respond to comments by parents because the issues they raised during the comment section of the meeting are not on the formal agenda.

The session was prefaced by an unusual warning by board President Annette Auxier that parents could be subject to a defamation suit if they criticized people.

Board member Bob Rice, speaking at a subsequent school board candidates’ forum, defended the school board and Hale.

He said the Tarwater principal “reported it in the appropriate way that we’re supposed to report it” to police. He said, however, “in terms of communication” with parents, “there’s probably room for improvement.”

“They are taking it seriously,” Rice said. “It’s a challenge. It’s getting addressed. They’re talking to staff. I do trust them. We also ask questions. We think things are being handled appropriately. Is there room for improvement? Sure.”

Lara Bruner, a school board candidate and a teacher in the Tempe Union High School District, said she did not know enough about the specifics but noted that principals have an obligation to report claims of abuse to police. Her youngest child attends Perry High School.

“That’s part of federal and state law,” Bruner said of reporting suspected sex crimes. “It’s cut and dry. We want to take care of kids. We want them to feel safe.”

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