DC Needs A Sexual Assault Policy For ALL Its Publicly Funded Schools–Now

Just a few months ago, in June, we learned that an employee of a popular DC aftercare provider, Springboard, allegedly sexually abused a child at DCPS’s Logan Montessori school.

What has unfolded since shows that our city leaders do not appear to regard the handling of sexual assaults in our publicly funded schools as a matter of basic public safety—-much like functioning door locks, fire and building codes, safe food-handling protocols, and clean water and air.

Which is why a sexual assault policy for ALL DC’s publicly funded schools must be an immediate priority for city leaders.

Recent examples abound of our city’s disregard for prioritizing sexual assaults in school as a basic public safety concern:

–The office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) appeared AWOL on background checks for Springboard employees, which seems to have been one of its responsibilities WRT aftercare providers in charter schools. Now, months after the Logan incident, it remains unclear who, if anyone, is holding OSSE accountable on this issue–and how.

–The Logan incident was reported on May 8, an entire month before parents were told anything. (The employee was arrested on June 12.)

–Springboard itself lacked documentation on background checks.

–After public questioning, DCPS revealed that about a third of its staff were out of compliance with background checks.

–DCPS said that it would ensure 100% staff compliance with background checks–a month after school starts.

–Our deputy mayor for education said that parents in charter schools would have to check with their own schools for basic sexual assault safety procedures–because there is no benchmark policy anywhere for the DC schools that educate nearly half of DC’s students.

Possibly because of that last item, the city council earlier this year enacted a law to ensure that all DC’s publicly funded schools would have some policy in place to address child sexual abuse and vet new hires.

But not for at least another year.

Needless to say, that legislation is both late and insufficient: Yet another lawsuit was recently filed regarding sexual assaults at LAMB charter school (see here and here for the first lawsuit; here for the second lawsuit). And that’s not counting many other sexual misconduct incidents in our schools from just the last 5 years alone.

Simply put, how are parents to know that their children are safe in our schools, if the city sets no benchmark policy for student safety applicable to all publicly funded schools all the time?

Recognizing, and protecting our kids from, sexual assault in their public schools is a democratic basic–like fire alarms and building codes, clean water and clean air–that taxpayers have every reason to expect our city provides as a given. After all, we don’t expect parents to ascertain if the roofs of their children’s schools are sufficiently supported or fire alarms work before they send their children to a publicly funded school in DC. Similarly, we shouldn’t expect parents to replace a school’s HVAC filters or install new smoke detectors in school hallways to ensure the continued health and safety of their children there.

So: why would anyone expect parents to research how sexual assaults are handled at their own schools and then make some determination as to whether their own children will actually be safe–or lobby to make policy that would ensure that safety? Even as it overlooks common sense and public responsibility, that attitude grotesquely prioritizes the choice and freedom of adults over the safety of children.

To be sure, DCPS has recently made some effort, as documented here–and is currently setting up a student safety task force of about 25 individuals to help guide its sexual misconduct policies (for more information and to sign up before the September 3 deadline, see here).

Still, it’s mainly parents who continue the hard work of documenting the outrageous and demanding effective and immediate policies for all, not just some, of our public schools.

For instance, Logan parent Danica Petroshius has painstakingly documented events unfolding in the wake of the Logan incident.

And at a meeting a few weeks ago with DCPS chancellor Lewis Ferebee about the Logan incident, another parent documented how more questions remained than were answered.

Petroshius has also documented her ongoing conversations with DCPS, revealing the uphill effort to get official urgency to match that of parents on this subject.

Sadly, Logan is just one data point in DC on this subject: Sexual assaults in DC government agencies are not tracked well–or sometimes even publicly revealed.

For instance, despite a recent news report that in the last 20 months, 27 complaints have been filed concerning sexual assaults in DCPS, details concerning the substantiated incidents have not been shared with the public by city officials. As a result of the ensuing (and inexplicable) public darkness, the DC Open Government Coalition recently filed a FOIA request.

(Good luck with doing that with our charter schools, which are still not subject to FOIA.)

It is far past time for our city leaders to understand that a sexual assault policy for ALL our schools is neither too complicated nor unheard of, but simply basic to public education and safety.

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