EVART — The parent of an alleged sexual assault victim is seeking answers from the Evart school board.
At a special budget meeting Thursday, a parent of an Evart Middle School student asked the board several questions regarding a Title IX investigation involving their child and another student.
The parent (whose name is withheld to protect the identity of the alleged victim – it is Cadillac News policy not to identify victims of sexual abuse) asked the Evart School Board President , Alan Bengry, if the board was aware of the situation prior to the June meeting. .
Bengry said he knew there was an ongoing Title IX investigation because Evart Schools Superintendent Shirley Howard informed him that she had contacted the district attorney. Howard said she alerted board members to the investigation, but on the advice of the district attorney, she withheld the details to protect the students involved.
The parent then asked Howard why she removed Evart High School principal Jessica Kolenda from the investigation, which the parent said was launched by Kolenda on February 16.
Howard said she didn’t remove Kolenda from the investigation “exactly.” Howard asked Bengry if she was allowed to answer that question. Bengry said he didn’t know if she was able to answer.
Howard said that on the advice of the first attorney, the district contacted an expert Title IX attorney, due to the sensitivity of the case. Howard said she discussed the situation with other superintendents and decided it was “well worth the money to do it right and not make mistakes.”
On the day of the incident, the parent said the alleged victim was attending an after-school event with a friend. The parent’s spouse, an Evart teacher, was also at school, but for a different activity. The spouse was subsequently suspended for five days without pay.
Counsel said the spouse was negligent and did not adequately supervise the alleged victim or alleged perpetrator.
At Thursday’s meeting, the parent said his spouse should not have been blamed, as his child was not under the spousal supervision. The alleged victim’s parent then asked what supervision their child’s peer was under at the time of the alleged assault.
“If this had happened to them, whose fault would it be?” asked the relative. “That’s my question.”
Howard said she was unable to answer the question, based on advice from the district attorney. She said if council members had any additional questions, the answers could be provided in a closed session. The parent added that council is also welcome to ask them any questions they have as well.
“I would personally pay to have that lawyer giving you this information or advice to sit here, so that we can ask the lawyer questions, so that we know that you are giving this lawyer full and truthful information, “, the parent told Howard. “I don’t believe you are. I think you’re giving a lot of people half-truths, which I think it’s unfair to fall back on, “The lawyer said do this; the lawyer said to do this.
The relative added that they would continue to attend council meetings and ask questions.
Howard said she had nothing to do with the actual investigation and referred to a prepared statement she planned to read during the superintendent’s report at the end of the special meeting.
After approving several budget items, Howard read his attorney-approved statement to the board and audience members.
“Following public comments at our last board meeting, a board member had some questions for me that I wanted to take the time to review before providing an answer to the full board. administration,” she began. “I also consulted with district legal counsel, who had worked with us every step of the way since the Title IX investigation and the employee misconduct referenced in the public comments.”
Howard said in his statement that the board should be aware that many of the statements made during the previous meeting’s public comments regarding the Title IX investigation were inaccurate. She said that generally, an initial report of student sexual activity to a school’s Title IX coordinator does not require immediate contact with law enforcement or child protective services.
According to Michigan law, she said, child protective services must be notified if a mandatory reporter has reasonable grounds to suspect child abuse or neglect.
“Child abuse and neglect is defined by law as acts committed not by a peer or other student, but by a parent, legal guardian or other person responsible for the health and welfare of child,” she said. “This was not the case.”
Howard said law enforcement is contacted when it is clear that a crime has occurred, which, based on the information in their initial report, was not the case. Howard said different information came into play during the investigation, “which led to a different conclusion.” She added that the district has at no time prohibited or prevented the family of a district student from filing a criminal complaint.
According to Lt. Derrick Carroll, Michigan State Police Public Information Officer, “Michigan child protection law requires certain people to report suspected child abuse or neglect to protective services. from childhood”. Missaukee County District Attorney David DenHouten said the child abuse and neglect law fails to meet the mandatory reporting requirement in cases of an alleged sexual assault between two minors.
“They may be right that it may not be necessary to file an abuse and neglect claim,” he said. “But this does not meet the reporting requirement under Title IX.”
Osceola County District Attorney Tony Badovinac said he was not made aware of any Title IX investigation by the district. Like DenHouten, he said the mandatory reporting guidelines cover cases involving two minors.
“What happens is (the school) reports it to the CPS, which is Child Protective Services, and then they investigate,” Badovinac said. “If (the CPS) thinks an investigation is necessary, then they call in the police.”
Following the meeting, the relative of the alleged victim said he would like the council to be more aware and that it is important that the truth be told.
“Howard’s statement tonight shows that it’s clear, not necessarily that the truth is being told, but that the school is being protected from liability,” the parent said.
Going forward, the parent said he hoped the board would ask questions and then ask follow-up questions when things didn’t make sense.
“Great leaders deal with the hard stuff, and some don’t,” the parent said. “They do what’s easiest.”
After the meeting, Howard said his job is to protect the students, but also the district. She said she couldn’t comment further and would continue to follow the district attorney’s advice.