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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Open Letter to the Ketchikan School Board

By John Harrington

March 13, 2019
Wednesday PM

I am here to talk about the Edwards' Mess. With the plea agreement, Mr. Edwards part in the mess has reached a conclusion.

Now it is time to shift attention back to the school district. When I first wrote a letter to Sitnews, I was hoping others would write and continue the public discussion. Thankfully, Gigi wrote a letter; she was a lot blunter than I was.

When I wrote my letter to Sitnews, I did so with the assumption that there was no notification to authorities on any of the situations you had investigated. If I am wrong, please correct me.The regulations were and are clear about notification. Notification to legal authorities was deemed unneeded. Back to the letter.
The response to my letter was not what I expected. Several conversations took place. Some with former School District employees. And another from another outside professional who has contact with District employees.

First a caveat: the misdeeds I will discuss all occurred several years ago. Also, they are all hearsay. However, every one of the sources is reputable, and I believed them.

First category of misdeeds: Sexual misconduct.
1. A teacher accidentally encountered another staff person and a student lovey-dovey in a storage room at the high school….. Teacher talked about it but refused to report as required by Alaska law.
2. A teacher and a student were observed in a faculty bathroom together after school demonstrating inappropriate contact. Reported, and the Principal response was, “I can’t deal with it.” Was not reported by the teacher as required by law.
3. From outside looking through a window, a staff person could see a teacher sitting at their desk with an adult visitor under the desk obviously involved in providing the teacher with some stimulating after school activity. Again, the Administration was not interested.

Second category: Child Abuse noted by a teacher.
• In a conversation between a teacher and an outside professional. Teacher commented about an abused student. When asked if the teacher reported it. The teacher said, ‘no,’ we are in sensitive contract negotiations and I didn’t want to ‘rock the boat.’
• In another conversation between a teacher and an outside professional. Again, an abused student was commented on. Again, the question about reporting. This teacher responded he couldn’t because it might jeopardize attaining Tenure.
• Finally, A teacher describe how one of the students has been sexually abused by an older student. The teacher immediately contacted Child Protective Services, and then contacted the principal to report the incident. As I understand it that is what is supposed to happen. That is the law. So, it may surprise you what happened next. That teacher was approached by Central Office Admin. and threatened the teacher with disciplinary action for reporting as required by law. At first the teacher thought the threat was laughable. To follow the law is not a disciplinary problem. Later the Teacher realized that given the power of the administration the actual reason for disciplinary action need not be mentioned. It was not long before the teacher chose to leave the district.

The reason that I bring these incidents up is to point out that there is a history of ‘a code of silence’ in this district. These incidents are all old news. Nothing can be done about them, BUT TO LEARN.

You have many responsibilities. You are charged with overseeing the entire district. You are the community’s representatives. You must protect the district and the students.

As you move forward with your regulations, know that they were already adequate. What you need to do is to absolutely destroy the Code of Silence in this District. To do so, I have recommendations for you.

First: Immediately, direct your attorney to meet with the local prosecutor and share your report. And then assist the prosecutor in any way you can in the possible criminal prosecution of district employees who failed to report to the authorities as required by law and your regulations. To stay silent to abuse is to facilitate, encourage, and condone the acts. It makes the silent ones in part responsible for later abuses.

Second: Build into your regulations, specific rules with teeth. Make it a firing offense to fail to report abuse. If a teacher is in a real quandary. Build in a process with your administrative team (but require notification to more than one person) to assist.
Then direct the Human Resource Director and the Attorney to annually present a summary of all such incidents.

Finally, make it clear in contract language, if ever again the Board gets caught unaware of ongoing incidents of abuse or misconduct, you will fire all involved.

Some of us are waiting to see what happens. The next step is yours. Make it a good one.

I had a friend read what I wrote. She asked me “Is this as strong as you want it to be? I replied ‘no.’ So she asked, “What did you leave out?” I responded:

“You the School Board had an opportunity to speak for the community, and our children. You failed. If an administrator had enough knowledge to ‘not sign a teacher’s contract, for cause,’ he had enough knowledge to report to Child Protective Services, failing that he should be indicted. Failing to act makes him an accessory to the predator. And you allowed him to resign. I guess so he can go and do the same in another district! You wouldn’t even give that information to the State agency evaluating whether people should keep their licenses to teach and administer in our schools.

One of you even wanted to have him stay. And now you want to give him $53,000. I find your conduct quite offensive. I hope to God you do something to redeem yourselves as you move forward.

John Harrington
Ketchikan, Alaska

Editor's Note:

The text of this letter was NOT edited by the SitNews Editor.


Received March 13, 2019 - Published March 13, 2019

Related Viewpoint:

letter Ketchikan has been hornswoggled By Mark O'Brien

letter The Edwards' Mess By John Harrington

letter Re: Edwards' Mess By Gigi Pilcher

letter Systemic betrayal of public trust By Mark O'Brien


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