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LCSD under investigation for handling of alleged sexual misconduct incident

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ODE opening appeal over events at Oceanlake Elementary

The Oregon Department of Education is investigating the Lincoln County School District over the handling of an incident involving alleged sexual misconduct last year at Oceanlake Elementary School.

A letter from the Department of Education (ODE) to Lincoln County School District (LCSD) Superintendent Dr. Karen Gray dated March 12, 2019, states:

The Oregon Department of Education is opening an appeal regarding complaints of sex discrimination and harassment in education against the Lincoln County School District. In this appeal, it is alleged:

  1. District and building administrators did not conduct timely, fair and impartial discrimination, harassment, bullying and intimidation investigations.
  2. District and building administrators did not remedy a hostile environment when complaints were made alleging discrimination on the basis of sex and/or on the basis of race and color.

“The Lincoln County School District is aware of the appeal through the Oregon Department of Education,” Gray said. “We have been working closely with the families involved and we fully support the process that ODE will follow.”

LCSD Communications Specialist Kristin Bigler said Oceanlake Principal Sandy Mummey is on spring break and unavailable for comment.

The incident reportedly occurred after three kindergartners left Oceanlake physical education teacher Joshua Vrendenburg’s class on March 12 of last year and went unsupervised for approximately 20 minutes in a school bathroom, where sexual misconduct allegedly took place.

Vredenburg has not responded to Homepage’s request for comment.

An incident report filed by the gym teacher stated all three students snuck out of the gym, and went to the bathroom and exposed themselves to each other. While in the bathroom, other inappropriate sexual behavior allegedly occurred.

A fourth student who walked into the bathroom and witnessed the incident, told a teacher, who notified office staff.

Laurie Porter, mother of one of the children involved, said her son asked to go to the bathroom and had to write his name on the board before leaving. Tiffany Hill, mother of another of the children, said her son also asked to go to the bathroom.

Porter said she was notified around 4 p.m., approximately four hours after the incident occurred. The reason given, Porter said, was that police and the Child Advocacy Center were called in and “were handling it in the order deemed necessary.”

Porter was contacted by ODE investigators and said a detective from the Lincoln City Police Department will interview her son in April.

Porter said she can’t afford homeschooling or to send her child to private school. She said her son feels safe at the school, but expressed concern about being bullied by one of the kids from the bathroom incident last year.

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Hill said Gray contacted her and apologized for the “terrible incident” and assured her nothing like this would happen again. Hill said Gray told her failure to supervise was a serious violation of protocol.

In excerpts from an email to Hill, Gray said:

  1. [Oceanlake Principal] Sandy [Mummey] did address the unsupervised time with the staff involved. The children were unsupervised. It was wrong, it is against district standards, and it was dealt with to the full extent of our personnel procedures. Those details cannot be shared with you. It is against the law and breaks HR [human resource] confidentiality rules by sharing discipline of staff with parents. Because it caused a terrible incident to occur the school could not be more sorry that it happened. Failure to supervise is very serious to all of us. Earlier in the year a teacher was let go in another school because of several incidents of poor supervision demonstrating how serious this is.
  2. Sandy instituted a restroom procedure of sign outs and put signs on the doors to stop kids from leaving. The staff have shown much improvement since the incident and there have been no incidents of this nature again to date.

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In an unedited Facebook post, Hill said:

I have decided that I need to share our experiences with oceanlake elementary school it was not easy my son went through a lot so please don’t be rude

My name is Tiffany Hill I would like to talk to you about my experiences with Ocean Lake Elementary school administration. I would like to take the time to say that I have never had any bad experiences with any of the teachers at this school. All of my child’s teachers have always gone above and beyond. I am writing this to explain the experiences I have had while trying to manage a situation my child experienced with Ocean Lake a principles and how they handled the concerns and complaints I brought forth on more than one occasion. I feel there needs to be immediate changes made to existing policies or create new policies & procedures to be followed for situations like my child experienced. I do not feel that the safety of my child was a priority and that the situation was handled poorly.

I can only write about my own family’s experience and I choose to keep the details of the event private for my child’s emotional safety. My hope is that by sharing our experience other parents know they aren’t alone in their struggles with this administration.

On March 12, 2018 I received a call from the school administrator after 3 pm stating that mine and another child left the gym with permission to use the bathroom and another student snuck out of the gym and followed behind them. Administration stated on the phone that there had been inappropriate touch by the last child on the persons of the other two children and that this was witnessed by a fourth student who reported the behavior. The copy of the incident report I had later received indicated that this took place at 11:10 am. I was not notified until after 3 pm.

School administration stated that DHS had been notified and that an officer spoke with my child. I requested that a bathroom plan be put in place at the meeting in person that day. I stated all of my concerns. Administration stated that offending student had been removed from the classroom into a buddy room for the remainder of that day. In the same meeting I expressed my desire to have my child removed out of that class. Administration stated No they would not remove my child because she felt it would do more harm than good I left the office feeling completely at a loss. I was not given any resources to help my child. I felt I wasn’t prepared or advised of the processes that would occur next. Such as when a situation like this happens the child advocacy center is notified and they interview the children involved. So I didn’t know that when my child was never interviewed something was missed. (Again this was another thing that was never done by the school or the officer on this case. Administration stated that anytime they have a case like this they always contact CAC due to there policy. I was advised that I would be kept informed by the administrator and the officer stated that they would keep me informed and follow up with a call later in the week. I had called and reported the incident to the police and I also called DHS. I never did receive any follow up from the administrator or the officer.

About two weeks later I received a call from admin that the offending student and my child had an altercation and that threats were made. My child was told by the other student that he was going to shoot my child’s dad. To which my child replied “well my dad will shoot your mom”.

On June 14th 2018 the offending student that had the previous altercations with my son began taunting my child with statements like “like I hate you…. “I am going to kill myself and everyone in this school” etc. My child responded back I hate you. Again I found myself in another meeting with administration in this meeting administration stated to the officer and myself that the boys were not a good combination and that NOW my child would be placed into another class. My child did not understand why they had to be moved, having and emotional meltdown in the hallway because of the change.

I feel that if my child had been allowed to change classes when I originally made the request in March then all of the threats and altercations that occurred after could have been avoided.

Perhaps as an isolated incident this seems like an unfortunate incident but other events occurred that showed me a general lack of skills and ability of the Ocean Lake Administration to manage these situations and a disappointing lack of compassion. Incident’s such as my child getting passed by at the morning bus stop which was quickly resolved by the bus company who had the driver turn around only to find a fully naked student sitting behind the bus driver. I would not have believed it from my child alone but I saw it for myself when my child was hesitant to get on the bus. When I called to report the naked child to the bus company their employee was rude and the first comment made to me was I should not have been on the bus in the first place. I called the school to let them know since the bus company was non-responsive and the school said that they had not yet received a report from the bus company after the morning route but that is was required. I was informed by the school they would follow up to see that it did not happen again. Of course I never did get a call back from the school or the bus company. I finally call to ask about it and was told…’oh I’m sorry, I thought I got back to you”. I was told the child in question had a mental disorder (which is a violation of medical privacy) to justify the event. Admin even admitted to me that it was against policy. This was all in November.

In Feb of this year my child’s teacher called to report that a different offending student crawled under my child’s desk and grabbed his privates. She stated she was helping a student and when she turned back around she witnessed student touch my child. In the same day another student decided to smack my son on the butt. My child came home that day and stated he did not feel safe at school and did not want to go back to class. I thank the teacher for calling me. I’m just confused why the administration didn’t follow up and again I was not notified until after school. I had to call the school to get a call back and was informed that those students were separated into buddy rooms.

My child did not attend school the next day, we took a “mental health day”. We did go back the day after that. I got a call from administration again stating the steps they took that day and then she stated I need to tell you another situation that happened in the classroom. Again another student did another inappropriate thing to my child. That was the last straw for me that day I decided to reach out to get answers to figure out how I can stop this. I then set up a meeting with both administrations as well as the super attendant. I felt nothing was really solved. During the meeting with all of them I had a lady from the children’s advocacy center in a room call as well as I stated for the safety of my child the meeting would be recorded. I was told in the beginning of the meeting that I was supposed to inform them ahead of time if I wanted to record as well as having an advocate with me in the meeting I told them I was not aware of that. The superintendent stated the obvious that this is truly is a problem. I told the superintendent that I had reached out too many families that experienced similar situations. I learned of other children being sexually harassed and they felt nothing was done by the Ocean Lake Administration. One parent made a special. Request for monitored bathroom breaks as their child could become aroused when around other children in the bathroom. The request was denied because of staffing. When I asked that parent if He/she was offered the office bathroom their answer was no. There are other stories of children being touched inappropriately and behavioral changes in the victims. The list goes on…and on, there had been a parent who stated her child had been slapped on the butt and then got in trouble for defending themselves.

Eventually I was informed that the camera’s where viewed from that day on 3/12/18. It showed all three students had been unsupervised (and not know to be missing) for 20 minutes in the bathroom. That is a long time for children to be left unsupervised. I have sat in on PE with my son there are 25 students in his class and there are 3 or 4 children with behaviors issues it is hard for the PE teacher to focus on the whole class when you have student’s that are acting out and being a distraction Large classroom size is not a new problem and a mitigating reason for some of these issues.

Large class sizes are not a “new” problem and cannot be an excuse for not at least attempting to address these issues.

After I finished the meeting I stated what I wanted to see come out of the meeting and my response where these.

1. When a parent tells you that his/her child can harm another child sexually, and that child needs to be monitored in the restroom. Administration needs to take that seriously and come up with a plan to make that happen instead of telling this parent they do not have the staffing ability to do so.

2. Better follow ups with the parents whose child has been sexually harassed, reassuring the parent that there has been a plan set in place and that they are following through with it. Doing what they say they’re going to do and not just say what they think I want to hear.

3. That when a parent requests a classroom change that is reasoable (sic) it needs to happen for the safety of the child.

4. I also requested that they put on the weekly newsletter or monthly that they send out to all parents a list of steps they should take if they feel the administration didn’t take the right steps such as contact the administration if that is not solved involve the superintendent if after that meeting nothing is resolved then go to the board of directors in writing if then you are not satisfied then contact the ODE.

5. If sexual assault or sexual harassment has been made to a child that child’s parent should be called right away so the parent, then can come to be with that child if that’s what the child needs at that time. A child who has been sexually abused by a student should never have to go through out the rest of the school day and should have the choice to go home or have their parent with them.That child who assaulted or sexually offended another student should be completely removed from that class not for just one day, but permanently. More staffing and less children in the classrooms 25 kids for one teacher is way too much.

6. Maybe get more parent volunteers.

What will it take for administration to realize this really is a problem at this school?

Due to the administration not taking the proper steps to keep my child safe he continued to have issues with the child who sexually offended him and continued to have altercations. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t fear my son going to school. I spent a lot of time at his school making sure he felt safe and that he was safe I stayed active between his teachers. I spent many days in his classroom

So this is our story. All of our children deserve to be valued and feel safe! A school day should not have these burdens. All children have a right to go to school and feel safe and to be able to learn without being stressed out all the time or worrying if they will be sexually harassed. I’m speaking out for all the children at Ocean Lake. I know what it’s like to be a child who felt like I had no voice. I am not naive to the social and behavioral challenges our teachers and schools have today but ignoring or not putting a higher priority is wrong. The staffing, funding, assistance and pay issues are not knew in the school system but it is affecting our children in a negative way. Is this not enough to says “we’ve had enough. I appreciate your challenges but we are not giving these issues enough consideration.

— — —

In an unedited response to Homepage’s inquiries, Porter said:

My son was a victim to the incident that took place on March 12th, 2018. I will never forget the phone call I received from the principal at 3:45 p.m., She asked me if I was somewhere that i could sit down and where my kids couldn’t hear, and I started shaking because I had a feeling something bad was going to be told to me. Well it was!

She told me that during my [5-year-old] son’s P.E. time, an incident occurred between my son and two other boys in the bathroom, and that they had exposed their genitals, and also did other inappropriate behavior. She then told me that because of the severity of the situation, she involved the school’s officer [Logan Smith], who was then handed the phone and he went in to telling me in more details what happened.

He told me that my son got a pass during P.E. From (Mr Vrendenburg) to use the bathroom and that two other boys were witnessed on camera, following after him. He then told me that a fourth child entered the bathroom several minutes later and witnessed inappropriate things taking place and left to notified a teacher.

At this point I was in tears, SICK to my stomach, ANGRY and wanted answers as to why I was being told all of this, not just 1 hour after school let out, but OVER 4 HOURS since the incident happened???!!! He just said they were handling it, in the order they deemed necessary and that CAC, and police were notified, and were going to continue investigating and that we’d hear from someone soon, but could call those places as well; which we did call several times, but were always told they were still gathering info.

Later that night (03/12/18) my son expressed to me that he didn’t want to go back to school EVER AGAIN! when I asked him why; he said he was afraid the other boys would follow him into the bathroom and be mean to him again, so we kept him home from school for a couple days and kept trying to reach the principal by phone and email, so that we could find out how they were going to keep our son safe when he returned back at school, but we kept getting directed elsewhere.

We recently found out about an incident report the school had from that day, we went to the school and got it but it does not match what we were told from the principal and officer after the incident happened. After we read it, we went to the police department to find out if they had reports from last year that were accurate to what was told last year only to find out that the case had been left in limbo this whole time, it has been a year.

Because of that we were not able to get a report from the police department and the case is now back on as an investigation trough them. We have also been told recently that the CAC and DHS had been notified last year of this incident. There are 4 entities ( Oceanlake Elementary, Lincoln City police department, the Child Advocacy Center And DHS) for a year have failed to contact us or keep in contact with us about the incident.

This school year my son has had some issues with being bullied by a couple different boys, one being a boy involved in the bathroom incident last year, the same boy that Tiffany’s son has had problems with as well.

— — —

In its letter, ODE cites ORS 659.850, Discrimination in education prohibited; and OAR 581-021-0049 Hearings and Appeals.

Justin Werner & Jim Fossumhttps://lincolncityhomepage.com
This article was written and edited to comply with Associated Press style and professional journalism standards by Homepage's publisher and executive editor.

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