The parents of a Guernsey kindergartner say their daughter was sexually assaulted by a classmate in February and that school district officials did not adequately handle the situation over the days and weeks that followed.
“I don’t know how you guys can sit up there and go home and look in a mirror and think this is acceptable,” the father of the student told the Platte County School District No. 2 school board at a meeting in mid-March, according to a recording obtained by the Star-Tribune.
The family, who has asked not to be named because they’re considering legal action against the district and wish to protect their child’s identity, say their 6-year-old daughter reported being sexually assaulted by a male classmate in early February. The student allegedly told a teacher at Guernsey-Sunrise Elementary about what happened on Feb. 7. The parents say the teacher did not inform them what their daughter had said. Instead, they learned about the alleged incident on Feb. 8 when their daughter told them that a male classmate had been touching her inappropriately.
What’s more, they said, the male student who allegedly assaulted their daughter remained in class with her throughout the Feb. 7 and 8 schooldays.
When the parents learned about the allegations on Feb. 8, they immediately went to the school, they said.
Superintendent Mike Beard and the kindergarten teacher allegedly told the parents “it’s more of a grab-ass kind of thing, nothing sexual about it,” the mother said, paraphrasing the conversation. After the meeting, their daughter described more graphic and disturbing details about the alleged assault than what she had previously told her parents. The family returned to the school the same day.
Her father then demanded a police report be filed, he said, and an officer came to the school. A message left for Guernsey Police was not returned last week. The parents said the case has been closed.
Two days later, on Feb. 10, the parents say they heard that the same male student had previously exposed himself to several female students on the playground, including their daughter. Their daughter also told them the male student had allegedly touched her inappropriately on the playground, while teachers were distracted elsewhere.
The couple’s daughter was scheduled for a forensic interview in Casper for Feb. 13. The day before, the parents say they learned that there was surveillance footage of the male student exposing himself, and that a teacher’s aide had allegedly been told about it before.
“They never notified me of that incident, ever,” the victim’s mother said. “When I asked, they said they didn’t want to interfere with (our daughter’s) forensic interview.”
In an email to the Star-Tribune, Beard, the district superintendent, called the entire incident “highly sensitive and confidential.”
“We have investigated a claim of a kindergarten student having inappropriately touched another student,” he said. “The district, based upon its investigation, has taken appropriate discipline action as allowed by applicable laws and added staff and interventions to reasonably assure a safe school environment for all kids.”
He declined to comment beyond that statement. The Platte County School District No. 2 board chairman, Gary Anderson, declined to comment when reached by phone late last month, deferring to Beard.
Parents criticize communication
Throughout February, the parents say they received little information from the school. On Feb. 20, they received a letter from Glen Suppes, the principal of Guernsey-Sunrise. The letter, obtained by the Star-Tribune, states that the district “believes that the events brought to our attention involving your student could have happened on school property” and that “the actions of the student that was reported to us are clear violations” of district policy, including those describing hazing, bullying and sexual harassment.
The letter states that the district was investigating the incident and that “every effort will be used to ensure that these events never happen again.” The letter further states the district would conduct staff training, evaluate and adjust classroom expectations and procedures, and institute new procedures for reporting and investigating similar incidents.
The parents were told in mid-February that the male student was no longer in school. But on Feb. 21, the district said the student would be allowed back in class, which is confirmed in the Feb. 20 letter: “The student will be returning to school” albeit in a “separate location and only ... for 1/2 of the day,” with the oversight of a full-time para-educator and under the observation of other “educational professionals.”
The girl’s family then filed a Title IX complaint and enrolled her in counseling. (Title IX is a provision in federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in educational entities that receive federal funding.) The family asked Suppes why the daughter had not been offered counseling through the district (the district would send letters offering that service later).
“The whole thing’s a f—-ing joke, to be honest,” the mother told the Star-Tribune. She said her daughter has been having nightmares and recurring stomachaches. She said the district told her and her husband that the male student was entitled to an education.
“But my child has to go to school in a hostile environment?” the mother said.
Her daughter “did the right thing,” the mother continued. “She reported it to an adult. And nothing was done. We’ve told her, ‘We’ll fight for you, we’ll take care of this, don’t worry,’ and now we look like liars.”
Another parent of a kindergartner in the class, who asked not to be named to protect his child, said he was alarmed by what had happened. He said he spoke with the superintendent last month, who told him to trust the district.
“Well, we already did,” the parent said, adding that his child had not reported any abuse. “You know, we are very strict as far as who our kids are around. ... So you send your kid to school, the one place where you should be able to send them and have them be safe, and they’re being assaulted on the playground.”
The parent said he had not heard the extent of what was happening in his child’s classroom until weeks after the alleged assault had been brought to the attention of school authorities. His wife said the couple was considering taking their child out of school, as are other parents in the class.
“It seemed liked the school was trying not to let anybody know this was going on,” the husband said. “I don’t agree with that stance at all. We all have little babies in that class. Six-, seven-year-old-kids.”
This parent also said that Superintendent Beard allegedly told him he “had a hard time believing that anything had happened” to the kindergartner who said she was sexually assaulted.
Asked to comment on that allegation and other details of the incident described by parents, Beard told the Star-Tribune on Tuesday that he could not comment.
The board did offer some responses to criticism last month. At a March 19 board meeting, a partial recording of which was obtained by the Star-Tribune, parents peppered Beard, the board chairman Anderson and the rest of the trustees with questions and criticisms about the incident. Staff members of the school, meanwhile, stood up to defend the school and the administration.
The parent of the daughter who was allegedly assaulted said other parents had come forward to him and said similar things had happened to their children by the same male classmate. He told Anderson that he had heard nothing from district leaders.
“We’re working on it, sir,” Anderson said, adding that the district had offered counseling to families at one point.
“These kids need help, sir,” the parent replied.
Anderson explained that between the time that the school became aware of the incident in early February up to the meeting in mid-March, administrators had been “working on it.” He said there were gaps caused by spring break and snow days.
“I realize there’s spring break and everything, but our lives still revolve around (our daughter),” the victim’s mother told the board. The father asked the board how many children had been touched or allegedly victimized by the male student.
Anderson said that he “would argue” that the board has addressed it, including by involving the police and the state Department of Family Services. He told another parent that the district wasn’t “trying to hide anything. Our hands are tied to a large extent” by student privacy constraints.
A woman who identified herself as a former student and the victim of sexual assault and harassment took the mic and, through tears, called on the board to defend the kindergartners.
“This little girl was traumatized, and nobody does anything,” she said.
As more parents stood up to criticize the board, Anderson said he “can’t continue to hear people say that, that we haven’t done anything for a month.” He said meetings had been scheduled with affected parents and outside agencies had been consulted.
“What have you done?” the parent of the daughter who was assaulted called out. “Show me. What have you done? Show me. You haven’t done anything.”
Anderson continued, saying that the “lapse of notification is not everything it appears, either.” He said the district and board could only notify the parents involved. The parents of the female kindergarten student told the Star-Tribune they were not notified until their daughter told them about the assault, and they similarly were not told about the video footage until later.
Another parent told the board there should have been an “expeditious” response.
“Actually, there was,” Beard, the superintendent, said.
“So everything is solved now?” the parent said.
“That is correct,” Beard replied.
A number of parents immediately spoke up to disagree with that characterization.
The mother of the student who was inappropriately touched stood up to speak. She said she previously supported the administration and the schools. Even after her daughter had described what had happened, she still thought the school would take care of it.
“But at this point, I don’t have those same opinions as some of you teachers and parents because this is my child. She has her whole education in front of her,” she said. “How are we supposed to believe in them if they’re not backing our child up? ... It’s disappointing as a parent. She’s a little girl.”