For the past several months, I have felt like the kid in the back of the room with his hand help up high, desperate to ask a question – but the teacher refuses to acknowledge me.
The teacher in this instance is the Tacoma School District, and my question is this: What in the world is going on at Stadium High School – and why won’t anyone call me back?
More specifically, why have there been multiple instances of teachers or staff members at SHS fired or removed from their positions over the past several school terms for having inappropriate contact with the very students they are entrusted to educate and protect? Why did the former principal, Gail Barnum, ignore my repeated calls for nearly a year? And why has the head of district security, Miguel Villahermosa, avoided me?
More importantly, why is there no public outcry for accountability? How many of SHS’s faculty will have to be fired before the public becomes outraged at the danger this situation poses to our children – five, six, seven? Just what is the magic number?
Has the disturbing story of child rapist Jerry Sandusky not gotten our collective attention? As parents, we should all be outraged. We should be asking what the school district plans to do about this – and we should demand answers. We should get those answers before we send our children back to a campus that seems to spawn more than its fair share of creeps and predators.
Perhaps no one at the school or the district wants to talk to me because they are embarrassed or because they fear a lawsuit. How else can I interpret the great wall of silence that’s gone up? (In full disclosure, I was able to talk with a school board member and a district administrator but not the people I needed to speak with to resolve my questions.)
What I have been told is this: “We are doing everything we can. We fingerprint our employees and run background checks.” That’s a good start, and if potential employees already have criminal records then you can avoid hiring them and move on.
But many predators have no criminal records. They are methodical, crafty and devious. They choose their hunting grounds with care and invest time in grooming their selected victims before attacking. They also know that after being violated, victims are often too scared, embarrassed and intimidated to come forward.
But kids talk, and rumors about some of these teachers have gone around. If the kids are hearing about it – and talking about it – it is hard to believe that at least some of the trustworthy teachers and administrators are not also hearing about it. So what gives?
According to the district, it provides “boundary invasion training” to all new teachers within 90 days of employment, a practice that is repeated every three years. With what is currently going on at SHS, that clearly inadequate effort seems borderline irresponsible and may perhaps be offered more to satiate public concern than to provide any real safeguard for our children. Such training, given the situation at SHS, should be repeated every Friday afternoon, with a refresher course on Monday morning.
There is something extremely troubling going on here. There seems to be a culture of looking the other way or, at the very least, a tendency by the district to bury its head. How else to explain so many predators at the same school in a seemingly endless cycle?
Protecting our children is part of the most basic moral code we ought to live by, and it is time we all step forward and demand action. Sadly, for those children already victimized at SHS, it is too late. They will have to live with lifelong psychological scars that no one should have to endure. If opportunities to limit this damage have been ignored by the school district and Stadium High School, those trusted educators will have to live with their own guilt.
The district’s website says that it has been a “lighthouse” district for many years, and that it often leads the way in piloting new programs and implementing innovative ideas. Here’s a good idea: Talk to us. Tell us what you plan to do to confront and combat the issue of predator-educators. Reassure us that our kids will be as safe as possible while under your charge and in your schools. Prove to us that you are leaders and worthy ones.
And lastly, when a parent calls you with a question – any question – call them back.
Chris Britt is a former News Tribune cartoonist whose work is nationally syndicated. He lives in Tacoma.