published Friday, February 10th, 2012

Birchwood Elementary School parents say they’re ignored

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Thirty family members convened Thursday to discuss concerns about Birchwood Elementary School in the wake of several reported instances of sexual harassment among students.

At the unofficial gathering, parents said that a particular student repeatedly groped and fondled others over a period of eight weeks. They told District 9 school board member Mike Evatt that Principal Sharon Watts was not forthcoming in telling parents about a potential risk at the school.

However, members of the school’s parent teacher association and Elementary Operations Director Karen Hollis were quick to support Watts.

“Parents are exaggerating,” Hollis said, “They don’t know all the facts. ... Sometimes parents can’t see the whole picture because we aren’t allowed to share the whole picture.”

PTA President Katie Parks added, “I don’t think that Ms. Watts has failed. I think she’s doing great.”

Yet parents at the Thursday meeting were quick to point out instances in which they felt ignored by the school staff that ranged from public humiliation to physical intimidation, events of which they say the staff was aware.

Evatt said the harassment problem has been resolved. After several family members used the term molestation to describe the events of the past eight weeks, Evatt urged them to think of the repercussions of having their own child labeled a molester. He said the school and the principal in particular had used the time between the first and last incidents to work with the boy on respectful touching.

Family members were frustrated that they were not told what was happening during this time, but Hollis said that privacy laws forbid school officials from sharing information about another student with parents, even one who has been punished for acts against one’s own child. The school will not reveal publicly the student’s grade or the final resolution.

Said Evatt, “The parents just want someone to hold accountable.”

Calls to Watts were not returned by press time.

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