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Know Your Home Waters

Editorial Note: In this article “Know Your Home Waters”, the Vashon Loop reports on information which is in the possession of the Vashon School District. Such information includes items such as a report from a professional investigator and parent statements. The Vashon Loop reminds our readers that none of this has been tested in a court of law, and thus should be considered allegations. (The Loop will include a version this note in its July print edition as well.)

Shortly before social media’s proliferation, a 2004 Department of Education study estimated that 10% of pre-college students faced sexual misconduct. No one has suggested improvement since, and in one 48-hour stretch earlier this year, six high school teachers were arrested across the US for having sex with their students. All are females between the ages of 26 and 40, awaiting trial for rape and sexual misconduct. Together, they face over 100 years of combined jail time, with prosecutions relying heavily on social media records.

Communities overwhelmingly want simple things from schools: Teach useful skills, be transparent, and don’t sexualize children. We are blessed with a vast majority of teachers here who follow that mission 100%. Yet, technologies enable back-door communications by design, and are obvious accelerants to boundary-crossings. This month, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten tweeted one solution, “Our union is here for you to help you future-proof your social media. @AFTunion has partnered w/LifeBrand for a 25% discount off the cost of this powerful tool that scans your social media to catch forgotten posts that may not reflect who you are today.”

So, would LifeBrand scrub the phrase, “I can’t wait to help blow out your birthday candles?”

Life Branding might not have worked for two teachers who claim to have met our state’s criteria to exercise consenting civil rights with graduated 18-year-olds. For the present, and with resignations, their lawyers secured the de facto blessings of the Vashon Island School District, and most importantly, the teacher’s union, to wait for current students until they were fair and legal game. State Superintendent of Schools Chris Reykdahl has maintained perfect silence.

There’s a repellent Ick Factor reserved especially for grooming; somewhat like watching rabbits raring to be let loose onto a greyhound racetrack. A grisly practice that was banned decades back. Explicitly approving the outcomes implicitly approves the preparations, and saying that any of these behaviors are OK certainly looks and feels like catering to the predators’ side of the equation. Who is being protected here?

What if a non-teacher adult had sent sexually explicit messages to a current student? How about an assistant coach? A bus driver? Hard to imagine they would have been given paid leave or guaranteed job recommends.

But the problems in these waters seem deeper than only minor-attracted pedagogy. The recent 29-page investigation, its results withheld by VISD until requested via Freedom of Information Act, lists 32 separate alleged policy violations by one teacher. There are requests for solutions aplenty, yet no suggested penalties.

Additional insight into the dysfunctionality of the VISD is illustrated in an incident report, obtained via FOIA, dated March 28, 2022. It reveals that the administration was repeatedly warned by multiple parents about one particular teacher’s ongoing violations of VISD policies 3207 (harassment, intimidation, bullying) and 5253 (professional boundaries) against several other students.

The parent email begins: “This is my fourth email in the last two years on the subject of (the teacher) and her professionalism. While I appreciate the promise of change for next year … it looks like you need to take action sooner. (The teacher) is retaliating against her students, and it seems to be escalating … Previous steps to wrangle the behavior of (the teacher) included an email from you about policies … (the teacher) openly read, and mocked this email to students.”

Added to what we know, this dysfunction indicates an almost total loss of administrative control over teachers, even apart from sexual misconduct. Is it possible to fix this? It may be time to try. Ten teachers have been let go due to budget shortfalls; other teachers, nurses, and administrators have fled, including the VHS principal, who left mid-year over last holiday break; all school board positions except one have opened; and, per the current Riptide headline, the theater and band departments now face cancellation.

In response to the community’s request to prohibit sexual relationships between teachers and students for a specified timeframe following graduation, Vashon teachers’ union reps have chimed in with less-than-resounding moral guidance: “While we believe that our members would be in full support of such a policy, we are not yet clear on the ramifications and recommendations from the Washington Educational Association.”

We fear that what they’re actually saying is, “We’re your shop stewards. And we’re terrified!”

Given a lack of clarity and an absence of amends, numerous families have already taken up alternatives to VHS attendance, or are still searching.

There is a kernel of hope left by the outgoing board, which seems to recognize that it needs outside help, referring consultations to DOVE. At first blush, this might not make sense, but DOVE does have the skills to deal with sexual harassment, domestic violence, and addictions. Still, there is an internal management problem here that seems beyond their purview, and which won’t be addressed by their proposed approach:

“We are modeling restorative justice practices and have created goals as it pertains to education for the school community, procedural changes, reparations, and cultural change.” 

As one Island born-and-raised mom observed about the school situation, “It’s like a snow-globe that needs to be shaken up really hard, so the snow can even out again.” Clearly, we need legal protections for our children, similar to those that were changed in the past to cover medical patients and college students in Washington state – exactly and simply as Vashon parents and students have point-blank demanded of our board and superintendent.

Editor’s Note: An earlier draft of the article was briefly present on this website. We apologize for any confusion that reading the earlier draft may have created.

In consideration of the editorial note at the top of this article, we have edited this article to add the word “allegations” when describing 32 policy violations contained within a professional investigator’s report undertaken on behalf of the Vashon School District.

June 6, 2023

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