When Denise Krepp is asked to hand over her identification card this week when she visits her children’s school to meet with teachers, she plans to refuse. Her sixth and tenth graders attend a BASIS charter school in the District and this school year, anyone who enters the building will have to scan their ID into the “Raptor system,” which compares the name, date of birth, and photo with the national database of sex offenders, according to a letter sent to parents.
It’s not because Krepp rejects the idea—although she does—but rather to protest a lack of information about sexual misconduct in schools.
“To put it bluntly, I think it’s outrageous that we are being told to hand over our driver’s license to gain entry to the school but city education leaders are refusing to tell elected officials and parents where sexual abuse, assault, and harassment is occurring,” writes Krepp, who’s a Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC), in an email to a list serve for Capitol Hill parents who send their kids to BASIS.
Krepp, along with a few other parents, has spent the summer trying to compel city officials to provide more information about sexual misconduct complaints reported in K-12 schools. Ahead of the first day of class for DC Public Schools (DCPS) students on Monday, parents have learned, in part, that: There have been six schools where substantiated claims of sexual abuse by an employee occurred between January 2018 and the present, but they do not know specifically where; roughly a quarter of DCPS staff has expired background checks; and the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Education doesn’t keep the aforementioned information on charter schools, which make up almost half of the city’s 93,000 students.
A recent incident prompted parents to ask questions. In mid-May, an adult working in a before- and after-school program at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, a public school near Union Station, kissed and inappropriately touched a 13-year-old student. Parents at the school only learned of the incident once WAMU reported in June that the employee was removed and schools stopped working with the company that operated the program.
Parents have since written various city officials to inquire about the current policies for dealing with sexual misconduct in primary and secondary schools. Their letters went to Mayor Muriel Bowser, Deputy Mayor of EducationPaul Kihn, DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee, and the DC Public Charter School Board Executive Director Scott Pearson. They have received some answers, but ultimately feel dissatisfied with the responses. City Desk emailed the offices of Kihn, Ferebee, and Pearson, but only Kihn’s spokesperson responded to say that City Paper should “take statements from Deputy Mayor for Education’s emailed correspondence.”
A letter, dated June 24 and signed by dozens of ANC Commissioners and DC State Board of Education (SBOE) members, kicked off a meeting and various email exchanges between parents and Kihn over the summer. Through various correspondences, Krepp and others learned that there have been six substantiated claims of sexual misconduct and three pending investigations between Jan. 2018 and the present, and that the city only began collecting and keeping this data on DCPS in January 2018, but does not do this for charter or private schools.
“Parents weren’t hearing about the assaults from the schools, we were hearing about it from the press,” Krepp tells City Desk. “There was no one place to find out this information. There’s no one point on a website that says this is where everything was occurring in all the schools in D.C. and this is how these issues were addressed.”
Krepp has repeatedly asked for the names of the six schools, but Kihn declined, citing concerns of the victims’ feelings. “We do not believe we have heard a compelling argument to release such an aggregated list, i.e. how this list will help keep students safe,” wrote Kihn to Krepp on Tuesday.
While he understands parents’ concerns based on reading newspaper reports, Kihn cautioned against jumping to conclusions. “Monument reported 40 incidents as sexual misconduct that included, for example, a student calling another student a derogatory name, and a student making gestures using her/his body inappropriately,” Kihn wrote. “While we continue to take these circumstances very seriously … it is also important to note that there were no reported sexual assault incidents between an adult and student and no situations that led to charges being pressed.”
But Krepp and others aren’t accepting these answers. On Friday, the DC Open Government Coalition requested the information through a Freedom of Information Act request. (Charter schools aren’t subjected to public records requests.)
“Clearly this is information that should be public—and should have been made public long ago. It’s another example of how information and data about our schools is so tightly held,” says SBOE President Ruth Wattenberg, who signed onto the June 24 letter. “Agencies don’t like transparency. But that’s why everywhere else there are vehicles for routine oversight—especially independent boards that can raise questions of their own and on behalf of parents and other stakeholders and that have access to the relevant data, information, etc.”
Meanwhile, Danica Petroshius has been trying to get DCPS to answer her own questions. She’s a parent whose fourth and sixth graders attend Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan and learned of the May incident by reading media reports. The man who abused the 13-year-old student organized football games her son occasionally joined in on. She remembers reading the reports and thinking, “nobody is looking out for our kids.”
So on June 12, Petroshius wrote a letter asking about the specific incident at her kids’ school and the city’s handling of these types of claims more broadly after reading about variousarrests in the media. Hundreds of parents and community members signed onto the letter and addressed it to several elected officials, from Bowser to At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, who chairs the Council’s committee on education. The letter asked for a response by June 26, but Petroshius says the mayor’s office agreed to write back by Aug. 23—a deadline the office has since missed. On Friday, Kihn apologized for not getting Petroshius a response, saying “[t]here has been a lot of back and forth to ensure the response is comprehensive” and he’s working to send something “soon.”
“It’s really damaging to us that they don’t help us understand how we got here. Parents really need to understand where are the fault lines,” says Petroshius.
DCPS officials have met with Petroshius and other parents. Mostly recently, Petroshius spoke with DCPS Deputy Chancellor Amy Maisterra. That’s when Petroshius learned that 27 percent of DCPS staffers still have expired background checks, as of Aug. 19. According Petroshius’ notes of the conversation, Maisterra couldn’t say whether staff members who fail to meet the safety requirement by the targeted goal of Sept. 30. will be forbidden to work.
When City Desk emailed Grosso’s communication director, Matthew Nocella, for comment, he cited the School Safety Act of 2018: “Councilmember Grosso has been concerned about how all schools in the District of Columbia have handled incidents of sexual assault and abuse in the past and is focused on how D.C. does a better job of preventing and responding to these cases moving forward… the Deputy Mayor for Education’s, DCPS’, and PCSB’s work to fulfill the requirements of the law will be the subject of the Councilmember’s performance oversight hearings in February.”
School staff will be re-trained on a new sexual misconduct policy in the fall and DCPS just launched a public working group to comply with the School Safety Act.
But Petroshius and Krepp aren’t very confident that the new law will bring forth results, which is why they and others continue to ask for more transparency.
“The trust between the system—whether the charter system or DCPS system—and parents is completely broken,” says Petroshius. “The trust has gone so far out of whack that we have to have information to do some of the oversight because their history is they don’t do it themselves. Our community is particularly sensitive to this, Montessori.”
Parents generally like to know what kinds of protections their kids have at school. In fact, the reason colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs have to disclose sexual misconduct complaints is thanks in part to outraged parents who got the Clery Act passed. But Advocates for Youth’s Sage Carson, an expert on sexual misconduct nationwide, couldn’t think of a city that provides this type of data for K-12 schools. She also cautioned against believing that such data is the panacea.
“I think this suggestion would not get to the solution that parents are hoping for,” says Carson, who’s also the manager of Know Your IX. “We should be pushing our schools to do climate surveys as well as train faculty staff and students on sexual misconduct reporting.”
When Petroshius asked if a third party will review the new system across all public schools, Maisterra said DCPS has no plans to do that but will consider it.