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Originally published March 26, 2012 at 9:06 PM | Page modified March 26, 2012 at 9:13 PM

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With investigation over at Lowell elementary, school aims to move on

The investigation found school administrators mishandled a report of suspected inappropriate staff behavior last year. Lowell families are left with the question of how can they best move forward with the rest of their school year.

Seattle Times education reporter

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Friday afternoon's release of a long-anticipated investigation into how Lowell Elementary School administrators handled a report of inappropriate behavior by a staff member has divided the school and left some families and teachers with unanswered questions.

Among the issues being debated on education blogs and in the school's parent Facebook group:

What led a special investigator to conclude that Principal Gregory King and Assistant Principal Rina Geoghagan mishandled the report? If they did mishandle it, why were they not fired? And why were the investigation's findings released after the close of the district's open-enrollment period?

On Capitol Hill and in Wallingford (the school is divided into two sites), families were left with the biggest question of all: How can they best move forward with the rest of their school year?

"I think a lot of parents just want to move on," said Erik Tanen, president of the school's PTA. "We just want to move forward and are tired of negative things about Lowell."

The challenges Lowell has faced this school year include being split into two locations because of overcrowding (with general-education students on Capitol Hill and the Accelerated Progress Program in Wallingford); the discovery of a wanted felon on a December fourth-grade field trip; and King's February decision to take a job at another school, only to announce a few days later he would stay at Lowell after his other offer was withdrawn.

"All of this definitely has been taxing on the morale of the school community as a whole," said David Garrick, the PTA's vice president.

The latest development — the investigation by local attorney Cristen Kent — found that King failed to properly investigate a January 2011 report from a staff member who thought she saw an instructional assistant kissing the feet of a special-education student.

Kent also found that King and Geoghagan apparently falsely told district officials three months later that they hadn't heard about the incident.

King and Geoghagan have both denied the investigation's findings, with King saying it relied on "made-up facts and faulty, biased assumptions."

Some parents, including Tanen, the PTA president, said they strongly support King and Geoghagan and feel they have been unfairly targeted by an unbalanced investigation.

Others, including Garrick, the PTA vice president, said the investigation has shaken their confidence in the school's leadership.

"I am very disturbed by the results of this investigation," said Sue Peters, a longtime Lowell parent and activist. "I believe both principals should be relieved of their duties."

District spokeswoman Lesley Rogers said Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield decided to let the administrators keep their jobs, partly because no foot kissing actually occurred and the incident did not necessarily constitute sexual abuse.

The spokeswoman also responded to concerns about the timing of the investigation's release — less than two weeks after the end of the district's open-enrollment period, when families are deciding which school to attend. Some have said knowledge of the investigation could have changed their decision.

Rogers said the report was supposed to be released last month but that King challenged some of its findings, leading to the delay. Parents seeking to move to another school with space can still do that until Sept. 30, she said.

Seattle School Board Vice President Kay Smith-Blum mostly declined to comment about the investigation but said that she, like many parents, hopes the school can move on now that the report is out.

"It's been handled," said Smith-Blum, who represents the Central Area on the board. "Hopefully we can all go back to teaching and learning now."

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

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