Investigation: Lowell principal mishandled claim of sex misconduct
A Seattle school principal and assistant principal mishandled a report of alleged sexual misconduct by a staffer, according to an investigation made public Friday.
Seattle Times education reporter
Letter of reprimand to Gregory King
Letter of reprimand to Rina Geoghagan
Statement by Rina Geoghagan
The principal and assistant principal at Capitol Hill's Lowell Elementary School mishandled a report of alleged sexual misconduct by a Lowell staff member last year, according to a nearly yearlong special investigation made public Friday afternoon.
The principal, Gregory King, failed to properly investigate a January 2011 report that an instructional assistant at the school may have kissed the feet of a special-education student, the report found.
And King and his assistant, Rina Geoghagan, falsely told district administrators three months later that they had no knowledge of the incident, according to the investigation. The investigation also found no foot kissing actually occurred.
Both King and Geoghagan received letters of reprimand, school-district spokeswoman Lesley Rogers said. Both are required to undergo training for proper reporting of "sexual abuse, sexual misconduct and physical abuse," but will keep their jobs.
"At Seattle Public Schools we take all allegations seriously," Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield wrote in a statement. "Moving forward, we will work with Lowell administrators and staff to ensure we foster and maintain a culture of professionalism and trust."
In an email Friday night, King said the report "relied on made-up facts and faulty, biased assumptions."
He said the allegations were investigated properly.
In a statement, Geoghagan said she had been told about the incident but not key details, such as the kissing of feet, as the district's investigation determined.
"I stand behind what I did in response to that report," she wrote. "I investigated it and took appropriate action consistent with the district's guidelines... "
The release of the report comes as district officials have recently acknowledged their current policy regarding reporting child abuse, neglect and exploitation is lacking.
State law requires all school employees to report any suspicions of abuse to their school principal, who must investigate and then report to police or Child Protective Services. In addition, almost all employees are themselves required to report suspected abuse to law enforcement.
But in some Seattle schools, the tradition has been for employees to only report to the principal. District officials promised to stamp out that practice after they paid more than $3 million to settle a lawsuit by former students who had been sexually abused by fifth-grade teacher Laurence E. "Shayne" Hill.
Hill admitted molesting as many as 13 girls — and in 2005 was sentenced to five years to life.
At the time, district officials promised to revamp training policies and clarify proper reporting duties.
But the investigation released Friday suggests the district needs to do more.
The Seattle School Board on Wednesday introduced a proposal to clarify guidelines for reporting of suspected abuse and require more training for school employees. The proposed new language is not related to the situation at Lowell, District Attorney Kevin O'Neill said.
However, in the case of the foot-kissing incident, it was reported only to administrators, who failed to investigate, according to the investigation.
The 10-month investigation was conducted by Cristin Kent, a local attorney who wrote last year's internal report about the district's fraud in the small-business contracting program.
The latest investigation stems from an ethics complaint by Jennifer Gary, a part-time speech-language pathologist who had worked at Lowell.
Gary is the one who thought she saw the foot kissing in January 2011.
She said she reported the incident to King, Geoghagan and an employee of the district's department of Health and Safety.
So she was shocked when she received an email from Geoghagan three months later, in April, accusing her of failing to properly report suspected school-employee misconduct.
Gary resigned the next day, saying she didn't do anything inappropriate but could not do her best "to serve the needs of students in the environment the Lowell administration has created."
She later unsuccessfully sought to retract the resignation. Then she filed the ethics complaint, claiming King and Geoghagan were retaliating against her for reporting misconduct.
During the course of her investigation, Kent determined King took no action on the matter, in part, because he believed the complaint was racially motivated.
The staffer making the complaint is white and the alleged perpetrator black, the report stated.
Rather than get involved, King demonstrated "inappropriate behavior" because he wrongly minimized the complaint, believing race was a factor, the district concluded.
"As a district employee, particularly an administrator in charge of a school, all factual allegations involving the safety of a student must be taken seriously and properly investigated. Your failure to take this complaint seriously and/or act on the complaint warrants this written reprimand," the district wrote King.
Kent, the investigator, also found King and Geoghagan misled district administrators about their knowledge of the incident to get administrators to sign off on a separate investigation of Gary, and whether she properly notified officials when she observed the incident.
Kent also faulted the two Lowell administrators — and particularly King — for not knowing how to handle suspected abuse.
"King did not understand the rules related to reporting child abuse — he did not know when school employees were required to report to him or to law enforcement, nor was he aware of the standard that triggers the reporting requirement," Kent wrote.
King had planned to leave Lowell last month for a job as a principal in Tacoma, but that district withdrew its offer after The Seattle Times reported about the ongoing investigation into the situation at Lowell.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal