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Investigation: Seattle principal didn't violate policy in handling alleged sexual incident
While the Lafayette Elementary School principal did not follow "best practices" in responding to alleged sexual harassment by a third-grader, she didn't violate policy, according to an investigation report released by Seattle Public Schools on Tuesday.
Seattle Times education reporter
The response of a West Seattle elementary-school principal to alleged sexual harassment by a third-grader "did not comply with best practices" but did not violate school-district policy, according to the findings of an internal investigation released Tuesday.
The investigation of the incident, which has shaken some in the Lafayette Elementary community, centered on how Principal Jo Lute-Ervin responded to reports that the student inappropriately touched himself and made noises at other students during a lunch recess last month.
According to the investigation, Lute-Ervin individually interviewed five student witnesses to the incident, in her office and without their parents present. During the interviews, she asked several to demonstrate what they had seen the boy do.
Lute-Ervin's failure to include another adult or inform parents, in addition to her request for students to demonstrate what they had seen, were described in the investigation report as not in keeping with "best practices."
Those commonly understood guidelines call for interviews with parents present and having students describe, rather than demonstrate, behaviors.
But that is not required by written policy, according to the investigation.
Lute-Ervin, who did not return requests for comment, has been advised about best practices but will not be disciplined, according to the investigation.
The third-grader was disciplined at the time.
All Seattle principals will receive mandatory training in August about identifying and responding to sensitive allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying, district officials said.
"Student safety and well-being is our top priority," Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield wrote in an email to the Seattle School Board. "We have ensured that Lafayette has a safe learning environment and I know the staff there will finish out the year on a positive note."
The three-week investigation also cleared Lute-Ervin of any wrongdoing in related complaints from a Lafayette parent about other responses to student misconduct.
The parent, Bret Barnecut, criticized the investigation as inadequate. He noted that investigators did not talk to any of the students interviewed by Lute-Ervin.
"This is a whitewash of the first order," said Barnecut, the father of one of the students interviewed by Lute-Ervin. He has asked the Seattle Police Department to look into the situation.
School Board President Michael DeBell said the superintendent should think about changing district policy to prohibit principals from asking students to demonstrate inappropriate behaviors they have witnessed. To education activist Melissa Westbrook, who has been posting about the Lafayette accusations on her blog, the situation is especially troubling in the aftermath of an incident at Capitol Hill's Lowell Elementary.
A yearlong special investigation into that incident, released in March, found that Principal Gregory King failed to properly investigate a report of alleged sexual misconduct by a staff member. King and his assistant principal, Rina Geoghagan, received letters of reprimand.
Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Lesley Rogers said the two incidents are not indicative of a pattern in the district.
Lute-Ervin, a former principal at TOPS K-8 and Leschi Elementary, is in her first year at Lafayette. In February, months before the alleged sexual incident, she announced she would leave that school at the end of the school year.
She is expected to join the district's central administration.
Her replacement should be announced soon.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.
Information in this article, originally published May 22, 2012, was corrected May 23, 2012. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that education activist Melissa Westbrook wrote on Tuesday that Seattle Public Schools should change its policy to prohibit principals from asking students to demonstrate inappropriate behaviors they have witnessed. Westbrook has said principals should not do that, but she did not call for a policy change Tuesday.