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When the U.S. Department of Education opened a sexual assault investigation at San Diego Unified School District in December 2014, district officials said nothing about it publicly.

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Parents districtwide received no letters or emails telling them the district was under federal scrutiny.

As the investigation continued for more than 16 months, San Diego Unified kept it quiet. On April 14, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights closed its investigation, finding that school officials failed to follow federal law while responding to a parent’s complaint that his son had been sexually assaulted by another student at an elementary school and requiring the district to adopt reforms. But even then, district officials didn’t announce the investigation or the resulting settlement with the federal government.

It wasn’t until inewsource reported the investigation last week after obtaining documents through a federal Freedom of Information Act request that district officials publicly acknowledged in a statement that San Diego Unified had been the subject of a recently closed federal inquiry.

San Diego Unified wasn’t the only local district to keep mum about a federal sexual violence investigation. Administrators at Carlsbad Unified School District did not tell parents that the district was facing its own Title IX investigation by the Office for Civil Rights. That investigation, the details of which haven’t been revealed, is ongoing.

The federal government doesn’t require school districts to inform the public that they are the subject of an investigation. But the decision by both districts to stay quiet begs the question: What is the obligation of school districts to notify the public about these investigations?

“The school system has a responsibility to let the parents and the community know,” said Jules Irvin-Rooney, a Title IX legal expert who serves as the board chairwoman of the national nonprofit group Stop Sexual Assault in Schools. “Without that transparency, we’re not able to trust.”

The redacted documents the Education Department provided to inewsource don’t name the San Diego Unified school where the sexual assault happened. Nor do they mention the names of the students and school officials involved.

But the dates and descriptions included in the documents suggest that the federal authorities may have been investigating one of several sexual assault incidents at Green Elementary in San Carlos.

In one of those incidents, the parents of a student reported that another boy at the school forced oral sex on their son and demanded the same sex act in return. Last year, the parents reached a settlement with San Diego Unified after they filed a claim alleging that the school’s principal failed to properly investigate the incident.

On May 7, after reading inewsource’s story, Esther Warkov, executive director of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, emailed a letter to the superintendent and board members of San Diego Unified, calling the district’s response to the complaint that sparked the federal investigation “deeply disturbing.”

“I call upon you to implement a campaign to educate students, families, and all stakeholders about gender based discrimination, unwelcome sexual touching, sexual harassment, and sexual assault,” Warkov wrote.

Irvin-Rooney said San Diego Unified and other school districts should see these federal investigations as an opportunity to teach parents and students about Title IX, the anti-discrimination law that requires school districts to protect students at K-12 schools from sexual violence and sexual harassment.  

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At the very least, Irvin-Rooney said districts should tell their communities that they are the subject of a federal investigation and that they are cooperating with authorities. In a few cases nationwide, she added, K-12 districts have notified the public before the investigations were reported in the media.

San Diego Unified’s communications director, Linda Zintz, said in a statement that the district did not make the federal investigation public because the Office for Civil Rights “did not request we notify all parents about this case.”

Instead, she said San Diego Unified and the Office for Civil Rights agreed that the district “would clarify our procedures in the annual edition of our ‘Fact for Parents’ handbook that goes to every household we serve.”

Zintz said those revisions will be posted on the district’s website by the end of May and published in physical handbooks over the summer. She did not respond to a question asking if the handbook would specifically mention the federal investigation.

Rick Grove, Carlsbad Unified’s assistant superintendent, said the Office for Civil Rights never required the district to publicly announce the investigation. He said the district wanted to protect the privacy of the students involved, and he questioned the value of making a general announcement that a federal investigation was underway.

“Our mind-set was, let the [Office for Civil Rights] do their work,” Grove said.

The responses from San Diego Unified and Carlsbad Unified differ from how a local university handled public outreach about a similar federal investigation.

Last year, the president of the University of San Diego sent out an email to the campus community to inform students, faculty and staff that the Department of Education had opened a sexual assault investigation at the school and that university officials were cooperating with federal authorities.

We want your feedback: As a parent, would you expect your child’s school district to inform you that the district was the subject of a federal Title IX investigation? Why/Why not?

Email your responses to contact@inewsource.org.

Chris Young was a reporter at inewsource. To contact inewsource with questions, tips or corrections, email contact@inewsource.org.

7 replies on “Should San Diego, Carlsbad schools have told parents about sex-assault investigations?”

  1. Chris,

    The fact that SDUSD did NOT choose to inform parents is telling of their arrogance toward parents as stakeholders in the safety of their own children and their lack of effort to truly reform.

    Advocates will watch very closely to see whether the district holds its own staff accountable to not only TITLE 9 but also to CANRA (Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act) laws.

  2. Absolutely this should be mandatory that they are informed.

    Parents and Students both have a right to know the school /district is under investigation. Often times other families have experienced the same type of abuse or assault with their own children and have taken the schools word of ” We have taken the neccessary measures and that is the end of what we can do” .

    The schools are absolutely AFRAID of the domino effect that would be sprung wide open and the uprise of additional complaints coming forward after that one open investigation triggers other parents and students to file their complaints.

    It is the student’s and parent’s right to be not only educated on Title IX but how to file a complaint . SSAIS.ORG is very informative and valuable organization in assisting parents, students, schools with resources to help educate .

    I have an open IX complaint in AZ in which an on-site visit to PVUSD was just conducted by the OCR DOE. The district nor the school has notified parents or students in our community and it’s extremely frustrating to know no one in our community had to be notified.

  3. As a teenager and activist it’s clear to me that parents, students, and the community all have a right to know what is going on in their schools. And, equally important, parents and students have the right to be educated on this subject to know the facts about sexual assault, discrimination, and harassment in K-12 and know they have Title IX rights and what those are. Stop Sexual Assault In Schools (SSAIS.org) is leading the movement to end sexual assault, harassment, and gender-based discrimination in K-12. Visit SSAIS.org to learn the facts, your rights, and how you can support the cause.

  4. Supt. Cindy Marten has proven she cannot be trusted with the safety of our children, The SDUSD Supt. Cindy Marten ABSOLUTELY should have revealed the investigation. As I write in my District Deeds blog, this is just another of a long line of cover ups and lies by incompetent Supt. Cindy Marten. For not notifying Parents, Teachers, Principals and Students of the risk of Sex Abuse being investigated by the DOE Office of Human Rights, Marten should be forced to resigned or be fired immediately before she has a chance to put even more children at risk.

  5. As a parent of a victim of child sexual abuse from her third grade teacher at Pacific Rim Elementary in Carlsbad, I am not surprised about the Title IX investigation or the lack of the schools to notify the parents. When Raymond Firth, the teacher who plead guilty to molesting three of his students (of course the plea bargaining DA reduced the actual charges), was first sent home on paid leave, nobody was notified until years later after we fought for the disclosure to happen. When our children have been potentially exposed to chicken pox, lice, or other harmful situations at school there is always a notice sent home and a call to all parents. However, when there has been a potential child molesting teacher that is deliberately kept quiet even after conviction. Parents need to speak up and take action and not let these schools get away with negligence.

  6. I’m appalled, but not surprised. Our culture is OBSESSED with sex. Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with sexual images – from the magazine rack at the grocery store, to cable TV, to the internet. Kids are stumbling upon this stuff and picking up some destructive, addictive behaviors. THAT’S OUR FAULT. It’s our responsibility to make our homes SAFE. And it’s OUR responsibility to pressure the schools to conform to OUR will.

    Our Gov has forgotten that WE are the ones who fund the local schools. It comes from OUR tax dollars. So, though it’s called “public” education, and though the Gov may “organize” these schools, these are OUR schools. Therefore, we should have some authority on what takes place within those walls. So, parents, GET INVOLVED. Take your schools back!

    Step 1: Stop sex education. Let the PARENTS decide when the child is MATURE enough to handle this information.
    Step 2: Teach the kids respect for adults, for self, and for others.
    Step 3: Teach the children personal boundaries. Space boundaries. Good touch, bad touch.
    Step 4: Deal with the kids who are propositioning their classmates, and creating a hostile environment. “Shape up or ship out.”
    Step 5: Get the parents involved.
    Step 6: Have at least 2 teachers aids in each class room.
    Step 7: Place a HooverCam in each classroom, so activities, topics, etc., can be monitored. Parents should be able to join the class at anytime, to watch the activities and to listen to what is being taught.

    Overkill? Maybe. But, remember, these are OUR schools and OUR children. NOT THE STATE’S. We need to guard them like HAWKS.

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