Protesters criticize Seattle school's handling of alleged rape
SEATTLE -- Garfield High School won't open to students for another two weeks, but it's a field trip students took nearly two years ago - and what happened on the trip - that brought out a crowd Wednesday night.
A student reported she was raped on the field trip to Olympic National Park in November 2012, but parents, students, and alumni feel the district and the school didn't do enough to review the report. Federal authorities are now investigating the district, looking into possible Title IX violations.
"The district has tried to cover up the complaint of sexual assault and has failed to follow all the mandatory reporting that is required at every level, including the federal level," the mother of the alleged victim said by phone Wednesday. "We want the district to stop making excuses and covering its failure to perform."
The alleged victim and her family have since moved away from Seattle, but point out the district waited nearly six months to look into what happened.
The district says it investigated but "found the facts to be inconclusive." It also points out that the FBI, National Parks Service, and US Attorney all looked into the case, but no charges were ever filed.
"We want everyone held accountable, from the teachers who failed to read the chaperoning rules year after year to the principal who signed off on a trip without the proper field trip procedures in place," family members said by phone Wednesday.
"By not giving fair weight to both sides of the story, it really seemed like they were just trying to prove the victim a liar," said Sylvie Nemeth, a Garfield graduate. "They really screwed this one up. They delayed the whole investigation."
Nemeth and others held signs and spoke during the school board meeting Wednesday night. School board members responded by insisting they will do better in the future.
"I deeply, deeply regret whatever lapses have occurred on the part of the district, both in terms of timely communication and systemic organizational responsibility," said school board member Marty McLaren.
"Keeping (children) safe is one of our priorities," added school board member Betty Patu. "You probably might say, 'well, you're not doing a very good job.' Well, we'll just have to do better."
The school district distributed a letter Wednesday to members of the community, outlining changes that have already taken place. The district has established a Critical Incident Response Plan, along with training administrators in how to respond to similar issues, said Dr. Larry Nyland, the school superintendent.
One school board member ended her comments by speaking about being innocent until proven guilty, which led to one of the protestors turning his back to her.
"There have been two criminal investigations around this and no one was charged. No one was charged with rape," said school board member Sharon Peaslee. "We cannot turn somebody into a victim in the process of trying to defend another victim."