GUERNSEY--As two fathers of kindergarten students addressed the Guernsey-Sunrise School Board, administrators, and a mixed crowd of community members and school staff Monday evening, their pain and frustration was evident. The source for that pain and frustration is the result of an event that was reported initially by one kindergartner and then others in February--that they had been sexually assaulted by a classmate. Both parents shared serious concerns with the way they say they feel the district and administration has mishandled the situation when it was reported and in the two months since the initial report.
A specific concern they wanted addressed at Monday night’s meeting was a report that the child accused of perpetrating the assault has continued to have issues in the classroom now that he has been returned following his initial removal. One of the fathers speaking stated the accused has subsequently been removed from class several times within the past week for behavioral issues. Characterizing the child’s removal to include him “kicking and screaming”. he asked “Why should my child have to witness that time after time?”
When board members were asked if they had knowledge of that information, one board member said he had heard about the child’s removal once but not the additional times. That response drew more accusations that the administrators were not communicating with the board. District Superintendent Mike Beard stated that the information fell under a school discipline and confidentiality policy and could not be discussed publicly.
Monday night’s meeting came on the heels of the publication of a lengthy story by the Casper Star-Tribune over the weekend regarding the situation. Much of the article dealt with allegations made by parents speaking at the March school board meeting.
According to that article, some of which was based on a recording of the meeting made and released by parents, several who spoke at that meeting felt the school did not adequately inform parents of the incident and what was being done to address it. That allegation, however, doesn’t seem to be shared by all of the kindergarten parents or even some staff members who spoke up in defense of what has and is being done.
Most of the ire directed at the board and administrators seems to be their lack of public response and level of information shared. But board members have stressed at both board meetings that they have policy and legal rules they are required to follow and stand by their response levels. One of the fathers speaking Monday evening challenged the board saying, “What about right and wrong here?” Board President and spokesman Gary Anderson replied that despite the perception by some of the members of the public, the board has taken the necessary and appropriate steps to deal with parties on both sides of the issue and are trying to do the right thing for everyone. “Just because what we feel is right doesn’t match what you feel is right” doesn’t mean we’re doing things wrong or that we don’t care.”
One kindergarten parent at Monday night’s meeting spoke from a prepared statement on behalf of herself and her husband, who was not in attendance. She acknowledged that while it was a situation nobody wanted to happen, they felt the board has addressed the situation adequately. Talking directly to the board members and administrators, she said, “We’d like to thank you for all you’ve done in a difficult situation. We feel the school and the board have worked hard to deal with this and we appreciate your efforts.”
Speaking to the group at large again, she asked other parents with children involved to remember that “everyone has rights in this and not every child has had the advantages that perhaps many of our children have had at home. Our children need to learn to deal with others who may have emotional or behavioral problems. They’ll have to learn how to handle things such as this. It’s part of life and growing up. They’re not always going to have us there to protect them.” Her remarks were followed by a solid round of applause from the majority of those gathered.
The publicity now surrounding the situation has put focus on a small community not accustomed to dealing with issues of this level or nature.
For the parents of the children affected and involved, it is a dark, unfamiliar and scary place they never could have anticipated being. Their fear and emotions are easily understood by anyone who has raised children.
For the school administration and board members, it is a dark, unfamiliar and scary place they never could have anticipated being. Dealing with it is uncharted territory with regard to all the legislated and ethical considerations to which they are forced to adhere. Their fear and emotions cannot direct their actions.
For everyone, it is a clear and stark reminder that sometimes there are no easy answers.