Healing a fractured school community

Healing, and deep systemic change, are both greatly needed in our school district.

This week, our coverage continues of our school district’s response to investigations following allegations that two teachers engaged in grooming students for romantic relationships that began just after the students graduated from high school.

What the district’s administration and board say and do now matters a great deal.

It has mattered all along — including during the time period when the board and administration huddled with the district’s attorneys in closed executive sessions and determined that the best course of action would be to settle with the teachers and allow them to resign under agreements that provided them with several months of additional full salaries and benefits.

In a recent statement, the board fell short in its response to community members by saying it could not consider a resolution that generally condemned romantic or sexual relationships between teachers and post-graduate students, for a period of one to two years after the student’s graduation, or bargain a similar agreement with teachers.

Again, in dismissing this suggestion — proposed by one of its former students at the center of the district’s investigation of longtime teacher, John Rees — the board again cited legal constraints.

We understand that the district has a duty to protect itself against litigation.

But we also believe they can and should speak more plainly, directly addressing the conduct described in the investigations, to ensure that it does not happen again.

Lara Hruska, an attorney representing the graduates involved in the investigation of John Rees, has taken issue with the board’s contention that a board resolution condemning sexual relationships between district employees and recent graduates would invite a constitutional challenge.

“A resolution can simply declare the board’s sentiment towards an issue, and I don’t understand why [the district] is resisting the opportunity to condemn problematic behavior by its staff,” said Hruska. “The district’s existing board policy on boundary invasions already addresses ‘appearances of impropriety,’” she said, adding that “sexual relationships between district employees and recent grads [are] likewise a red flag that should invite scrutiny.”

Going forward, we hope that the district’s recently-announced partnership with the Vashon DOVE Project will also result in the district directly addressing the issue of grooming behaviors by staff members, and how students can better recognize and be better protected against such behavior.

The DOVE Project has a stellar reputation in the community, and we are heartened by its executive director Heidi Jackson’s clear, unvarnished assessment of the work ahead.

“My hope is that we can build transparent benchmarks of change that can be reportable to the community with the hope that these efforts can begin the process of healing this fractured school environment,” Jackson has said.

Healing, and deep systemic change, are both greatly needed in our school district.