One Lafayette Elementary parent e-mailed us, puzzled about a PTA e-mail that arrived last night, addressing a situation that, as the note said, some had been following closely, and some knew nothing about. We hadn’t heard about it before the Seattle Schools Community Forum website published a report last week headlined “The Lafayette story.” As that site’s main writer Melissa Westbrook reported, it started with an accusation that a student had sexually harassed other students, and escalated into an accusation that the principal had mishandled the investigation. Now, the reason more are talking about it – including a Seattle Times [WSB partner] story published last night – is that the district has concluded its investigation, and says it found no evidence of wrongdoing. The resulting memo was provided to news organizations including WSB. It is the first independent corroboration we have had of this investigation. For those who would like to see it in its entirety, read on:
From: Apostle, Paul A
Sent: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 12:45 PM
To: Enfield, Susan A
Subject: Lafayette Investigation Memorandum
To: Susan Enfield
From: Paul Apostle
Date: May 22, 2012
Subject: Lafayette Investigation
Per your request, I have directed that an investigation be conducted into allegations that the Lafayette Principal, Jo Lute Ervin, did not properly address allegations of misconduct by a student and that the principal violated Board Policies 3207, Prohibition of Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying, and 3208, Sexual Harassment. The investigation is in response to a complaint filed on May 3, 2012, by two Lafayette parents.
The report of the District’s Employee and Labor Relations Investigator, Denise Williams-Saunders, is attached.
The report states that the student misconduct was promptly addressed by the classroom teachers and other staff involved. A parent of one of the students that witnessed one incident of inappropriate gestures on April 10, 2012 complained to the principal that the conduct had not been addressed and that his child had been subjected to sexual harassment.
In response the principal conducted an investigation, including interviewing the student and five student-witnesses on April 13, 2012. The principal then reported back to the complaining parents that her investigation confirmed the student had used inappropriate gestures, which had already been addressed by the classroom teacher, but did not confirm that the student had touched himself in a sexual manner. Ms. Williams-Saunder’s report states that the principal conducted the student interviews in private and asked the students to demonstrate the gestures used by the student. It was alleged that the principal had refused to allow a parent to sit in on the interview, but evidence indicates the principal was not aware the request was from the parent of the child being interviewed.
The report concludes that School Board Policies 3207 and 3208 were not violated.
Aurora Lora, Executive Director of Schools, met with the principal on April 25, 2012 and provided advice on ways to improve her response to sensitive allegations of student misconduct in the future. These include having another adult in the room whenever possible sensitive subjects are involved, not asking students to demonstrate the gestures used, informing parents before and after of such interviews, and providing better information to substitute teachers to inform them of problematic situations they may encounter.
You have asked that we take steps to assure a positive learning environment is maintained between now and the end of the school year. Deputy Superintendent Bob Boesche, Aurora Lora and I visited the school yesterday to assess that question. Aurora will meet with the entire staff today. We believe that staff is working hard and effectively to teach students. To assure this continues, we will provide additional support at the building as needed for the remaining four weeks of the school year.
Unrelated to this incident, the District announced in February that Ms. Lute Ervin would be leaving the school at the end of the school year. The hiring process for her replacement is nearly complete. No decision has been made for Ms. Lute Ervin’s new assignment next fall.
The District is planning mandatory training for school leaders for later this summer in identifying and investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying.
The SSCF site reported that one of the parents involved had filed a report last week asking police to investigate. We were unable to get that report through the precinct but are seeking it through headquarters, to find out its status.
ADDED 8:20 AM: The Lafayette PTA e-mail we mentioned above, sent to a school-related list, alluded to a letter to Lafayette families from West Seattle executive director of schools Aurora Lora. PTA president Annie Higgins has provided WSB with a copy; she says a hard copy will go home with Lafayette students today. As you will read, it is similar in content to the district memo above:
May 22, 2012
Dear Lafayette families,
I want to let you know about an issue at Lafayette that has come to public attention and assure you that student safety and well-being is a top priority at Lafayette.
Issues of alleged student misconduct at Lafayette were raised in early April and addressed. The student was disciplined by the classroom teacher. After a complaint from two parents, the principal conducted an investigation and concluded that no further action was warranted.
Later, on May 3, two parents filed a formal complaint. In response, Dr. Susan Enfield asked Human Resources to conduct an investigation. The report states that student misconduct was promptly addressed by the classroom teachers and other staff involved. The report concludes that no Board policies were violated.
To ensure a positive learning environment is maintained between now and the end of the school year, on Monday, Interim Deputy Superintendent Bob Boesché, and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Paul Apostle and I visited Lafayette and on Tuesday, we spoke to the entire staff. To help finish the school year, the school district is providing Principal Jo Lute-Ervin with additional administrative assistance.
With four weeks until the end of the school year, I want to thank the Lafayette staff and community for continuing to ensure strong teaching and learning, despite these distractions. I should have news about a principal appointment for the 2012-13 school year later this week.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Executive Director of Schools, West Seattle
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