Grand Jury Says Redlands Unified Still Lacks Adequate Training To Combat Sexual Abuse – Redlands Daily Facts

More than three years after the Redlands Unified School District enacted a series of reforms to address student sexual abuse, a San Bernardino County grand jury has found that school and district staff are still grappling with its legal obligation to weed out the predators in its ranks.

While commending the district for protocols imposed in 2018 after a Southern California News Group investigation found nearly two decades of failures to properly report alleged abuse, the grand jury found that many employees are still vague about laws on mandated journalists.

Additionally, school district personnel still lack a clear understanding of “reasonable suspicion” – information reaching a level sufficient to warrant reporting suspected abuse to law enforcement or the Department of Children’s Services. and to the family.

“All educators have a responsibility to ensure the academic success and well-being of their students,” the grand jury said in its 22-page report. “However, years of scandals, allegations and criminal cases filed against the Redlands Unified School District for sexual misconduct by staff and teachers involved with students have called into question the fulfillment of this responsibility.”

As part of its investigation, the grand jury interviewed personnel from the Redlands Police Department and Redlands Unified, as well as investigators hired by the school district as well as parents and victims.

It also examined incidents of sexual abuse between staff and students at Redlands Unified from 2006 to 2017 as well as laws governing commissioned journalists – people in fields such as education, medicine, social work and clergy who are required by law to inform authorities of suspicions and allegations of abuse. .

A “clearer understanding” needed

The grand jury found that, overall, administration and staff at Redlands Unified needed a “clearer understanding of how and to whom to report”.

The findings were among more than a dozen from the grand jury, which began investigating in February 2021 after reading an article by the Southern California News Group about another alleged victim of sexual abuse by the former Citrus Valley High School teacher. , Laura Whitehurst, suing the district.

The district has paid out $41.3 million over the past five years to settle sex abuse lawsuits brought by former students who alleged they were preyed upon and sexually abused by teachers from 1999 to 2016.

Grand Jury Findings

Titled “Predatory behavior and ignorance in the Redlands Unified School District: Has the school district learned its lesson?” the report detailed several troubling findings by the grand jury.

Among the discoveries:

  • Staff members choose to report to the anonymous WE-TIP hotline and administrators rather than the police and CFS when they suspect inappropriate behavior between teachers and students.
  • The district does not have a formal written policy requiring staff to notify parents immediately when their child is interviewed as part of a sexual abuse investigation.
  • The district has been inconsistent in its implementation of training and lacks ongoing training regarding mandatory reporting, identification of grooming behaviors and boundary violations.
  • Training is lacking for students and parents to identify predatory grooming behaviors.
  • The district’s parent-student handbook is bulky and arduous, littered with legalese and not user-friendly, and therefore not read often. But recipients sign the form acknowledging that they have read it because it is necessary for a student to register for classes. This, according to the grand jury, creates a “false narrative” that all parents and students have read and understood the contents of the manual.
  • District “Work Smart” guidance on staff protocols for appropriate use of social media platforms and communicating with students is not incorporated into district policies.

The shortcomings have clouded the progress the district has made over the past three years to tackle the problem. While the grand jury noted that the district should be commended for increasing training and implementing its ACT (Actions Create Trust) Now initiative to improve student safety, the grand jury said significant improvement was yet to come. necessary.

The grand jury recommended, among other things, year-round training at all schools and that all staff understand predatory grooming behaviors and what is “reasonable suspicion” during their annual performance reviews.

“The Grand Jury is confident that the District, in partnership with the community, can work to make training more effective in the future so that our most precious resource, our children, can be protected,” the Grand Jury said in The report.

Borough disappointed

In a statement, school district spokeswoman Christine Stephens said the district was disappointed with some of the findings and it appeared the grand jury misunderstood some aspects of the district’s efforts to address the issue. .

“The District was not given an opportunity to refute and/or clarify any criticisms or items that may have been misunderstood or misinterpreted before the report was made public,” Stephens said in its statement. By law, district officials have 90 days to prepare a written response to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations.

“Nevertheless, the District and this administration strongly believe in continuous improvement and will continue to conduct ongoing reviews of our policies, systems and protocols,” Stephens said.

She said the district has learned from the past.

“The current administration and the Board of Education have been determined to implement new systems, policies, protocols and training to detect suspected cases of child abuse and respond quickly and decisively,” Stephens said. .

Lawyer: the problem “starts at the top”

Attorney Morgan Stewart, whose law firm of Irvine Manly, Stewart & Finaldi has represented most former student victims and alleged victims in sex abuse lawsuits over the past six years, said in a statement that The school district’s failures noted in the grand jury report are the same failures he saw for his firm’s entire litigation.

He thinks the grand jury failed to hold those responsible for the problem accountable: the administrators.

“They describe it as a top-down problem. It might be time to replace the top down,” Stewart said. “I never thought of teachers as the district’s problem, the administration is the problem. The grand jury report fails to acknowledge the behavioral history of the administrators the district continues to employ.

He said he had three civil lawsuits pending against the district and was about to file another as well.

Charles J. Hobson, a management professor at Indiana University Northwest and author of Passing the Trash: A Parent’s Guide to Combat Sexual Abuse/Harassment of Their Children in School, agrees with Stewart that officials of Redlands Unified should be held. indebted.

“The problem starts at the top,” he said. “The superintendent and other district officials should be held criminally responsible for failing to take corrective action to prevent this problem. In my view, they and other mandated journalists should be considered accomplices in child sexual abuse and prosecuted.

The results “are not an anomaly”

Terri L. Miller, president of the Las Vegas-based nonprofit Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation, said she was not surprised the grand jury found persistent flaws in reporting to Redlands Unified.

“Unfortunately, these grand jury findings are not an anomaly,” Miller said in an email. “The greatest form of neglect regarding sexual misconduct by school personnel of students is the lack of education of all stakeholders on the definition and identification of misconduct, mandatory legal reporting to proper authorities, transparency and consistent adherence to policies designed to protect students.

“All educators have a duty of care to students and parents,” she continued. “The fact is, students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe. The grand jury’s finding that victims suffer lifelong trauma from being sexually abused in school is all too familiar to us at SESAME.”

Miller agrees with most of the grand jury’s recommendations, but took issue with the suggestion that Redlands Unified should retain documented allegations of sexual abuse and grooming for at least 10 years. She believes records should be kept in perpetuity.

“There should be no possibility of concealing substantiated records of those who have committed sexual misconduct/abuse of a student to prevent child predators from gaining employment in organizations/institutions serving young people at the future,” Miller said.

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