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Sexual assault protection order against Silver Beach teacher denied

Silver Beach Elementary
Silver Beach Elementary The Bellingham Herald file

A sexual assault protection order filed against a Silver Beach Elementary School teacher was dismissed without prejudice Thursday in Whatcom County District Court.

The petition for a temporary protection order was filed by a mother on behalf of her 9-year-old special needs son against the teacher, Kristine Tice, after the boy disclosed to his mother, school officials, a psychiatrist and police that there had been inappropriate conduct while he was a student in Tice’s classroom, according to court records.

The petition, which was filed Sept. 13, was denied because the mother failed to show up for the scheduled court hearing Thursday afternoon, according to court records. Meanwhile, nearly 50 people, mostly in support of Tice, showed up. The mother can file another petition, according to a District Court clerk.

Allegation reporting procedure

If any school official has reasonable cause to believe a child has suffered abuse or neglect, that official is required by law to immediately report the matter to either law enforcement or the department of social and health services, according to Washington state law. However, the law is unclear on what “reasonable cause” means, in regards to school officials. It does, however, define reasonable cause for those working for a nonprofit or for-profit organization.

If a school district doesn’t have reasonable cause, the district typically conducts some type of investigation to make a determination, said Catherine Slagle, director of the office of professional practices with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. If an investigation was done and nothing was found, the school usually does not involve law enforcement, Slagle said.

Internal investigation

In the allegations regarding the Silver Beach teacher, the Bellingham Public School District started an internal investigation immediately after receiving the allegations on Jan. 25, according to Jacqueline Brawley, communications director for Bellingham Public Schools.

“Unless we believe a child is in danger, our staff routinely begin by investigating issues that are brought to our attention,” Brawley said.

In May, the school district paid Lynette Baisch $10,275 to investigate the report. Baisch is an attorney with Porter Foster Rorick LLP, a firm the school district contracts with for its legal services.

Baisch defends and advises school districts on various legal issues, with an emphasis in special education law. She has experience defending school districts in due process hearings and court appeals, according to her biography on the Porter Foster Rorick website.

Brawley said district officials decided to hire the attorney “because of the general complexities and sensitivities of this situation and based on the number of interviews that needed to be conducted.”

Brawley said the investigation found no evidence to substantiate the allegations at that time. Baisch’s investigation ended June 29. The parent of the 9-year-old boy was notified July 5. District officials never contacted police.

The boy has since been moved to another school.

Brawley said it was the boy’s mother who contacted police, but when that report was made remains unclear.

Bellingham Police Lt. Jason Monson said the case remains under investigation.

Brawley said this is the first complaint involving Tice, who has worked at Silver Beach for 23 years. Data for the number of internal investigations the district has conducted involving similar allegations to other teachers or administrators was not immediately available.

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt

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