As reported in last week’s Swarthmorean, the Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board meeting last Monday, February 11, was punctuated by an attempt by a resident named “Peter” to read into the record a victim’s impact statement by a WSSD female student who he says was raped by a male student. The latter is now involved in WSSD extracurricular activities, according to Peter. Neither Peter nor the school board divulged the names of the parties, and Peter was prevented from reading the impact statement into the record at the 2/11 meeting.
This prompted some questions among those at the meeting and watching on local government channels 38 (Verizon Fios) and 8 (Comcast Xfinity). District residents have expressed concern at the process by which juvenile offenders can be returned to their home school districts and participate in education and extracurricular activity there. A student who commits a crime may be adjudicated to the rehabilitative and punitive program, supervised by the Delaware County juvenile division of the District Attorney’s office. Once a minor is judged to have been rehabilitated, he or she is subject to supervision by the Delaware County Juvenile Probation Office.
The Swarthmorean’s questions posed to District officials remain largely unanswered by prepared statements from School Board President Dr. Marylin Huff and Superintendent Dr. Lisa Palmer. We inquired about the incident referenced by “Peter” in his abortive attempt to read the victim’s impact statement, and the charges from, investigation and adjudication of the incident. Specifically, we sought to know whether the perpetrator of a felony is participating in extracurricular activities or attending classes at WSSD schools, whether he or she is attending classes at any of the schools, and, if there was a felony conviction, when and by what court was guilt established. We asked whether WSSD has a sexual abuse reporting policy that has been updated to comply with current state law, whether this matter being handled in conformance with that policy, and when and where will be the meeting of the committee which is responsible for this policy and its implementation.
Superintendent Palmer wrote: “Law enforcement and the courts have the responsibility to investigate and adjudicate the matter, as well as protect school community members…prior to determining whether that student will be permitted to continue in their regular school, the court system performs an assessment of the student. Although the schools do not get to see the assessment, the court will not place a student on probation, if such an assessment determines the student is a present danger.
“Also, in permitting such students to continue at their regular school, the court will send the school a notification. That notification ensures that the school can put in place the proper supports to protect the safely and welfare of the entire student body.” She also pointed out that school districts are not permitted to publicly discuss student records, including these notifications.
Dr. Huff noted that while the board and administration are responsible for assuring the safety of the entire student body in school, “The court retains overall authority and responsibility to ensure such individuals are not a danger to the community, wherever they may happen to be. I have the utmost confidence that WSSD administration has put appropriate safeguards in place to accomplish our piece of the responsibility.”
For those concerned with optimizing student safety as well as fairness, here’s the good news first. Dr. Palmer wrote: “The policy on extra-curricular participation is under review as the Board works to ensure it is consistent with its belief that students must adhere to a code of conduct not only in school but also out of school.” There is a policy committee of the WSSD board, and its meetings are open to the public. In fact, Dr. Huff wrote that the WSSD board had previously invited “the resident” (presumably Peter) to give input at an upcoming policy committee meeting.
Dr. Huff also noted that the school board has complied with statewide requirements to revise reporting policy in the wake of recent sexual abuse scandals like the Jerry Sandusky affair.
Here’s the not so good news: there is no date set for the next policy committee meeting. When it is held, residents concerned with safety implications of WSSD policies can participate as observers. They can also communicate directly with the three board members on the policy committee: Chapin Cimino, Damon Orsetti, and Wendy Voet, representing the District’s three regions. You may reach them indirectly with a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Huff wrote: “The process of changing a policy involves review and revision of the text…assuring that it is in compliance with current statutes, and making a recommendation to the full board. The board will then provide three public readings of the revised policy with the opportunity for public comment, before adopting any changes.”
Residents who feel that the board has not responded with alacrity to a perceived problem might best be advised to contact board members, as the twice-monthly board meeting does not permit public comment on non-agenda items. And changes to policy on the important matter of student reintegration has not been yet elevated to agenda status for the board, which next meets on Monday, February 25.