Figuring out which of hundreds of violent incidents in Seattle Public Schools were reported to police last year is so complicated that it...
Figuring out which of hundreds of violent incidents in Seattle Public Schools were reported to police last year is so complicated that it requires a search of two databases and a pile of handwritten paper records.
If that doesn’t work, the principal may have the case number jotted on a business card in his desk drawer, said Interim Director of Safety and Security Pegi McEvoy.
Two years of district databases list more than 1,000 violent incidents — including assaults, threats, robberies and weapons possession — that don’t appear to have been reported to police. But the district’s record-keeping is so spotty that it’s difficult to know for sure. The database field set aside for police case numbers was so seldom used that security officers sometimes used the space to jot down other facts about the incident.
This year, a federal Department of Education grant has allowed the district to implement a new computer system that will combine information about incidents and make it easier for security staff to keep track.
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Two former Rainier Beach High School students were charged Wednesday in the alleged rape of a fellow student in a school bathroom. School officials never reported that incident to police. At the time of the incident, they didn’t have enough information to show that it happened, district officials said.
School officials have a handbook to help them determine whether they should call the police. According to the handbook, “rape, indecent liberties, exposure, etc.,” should be reported to police. It also says school personnel should immediately call police if a student is robbed. It’s up to the principal or the principal’s designee to decide whether an assault is serious enough to warrant calling police.
Tomas Gahan, King County deputy prosecuting attorney and director of the School Violence Program, said school administrators aren’t in a position to decide what gets reported to police. Any allegation of sexual assault should be reported.
“Our office’s position is, if there’s reason to believe that a crime has been committed, then they should report it to police,” he said. “It shouldn’t be up to them to be the investigator. Are they trained in criminal investigations? Are they trained in sexual assaults?”
For example, Gahan said the school district should have reported last November when a Ballard High School 10th-grader told administrators she had been sexually assaulted the previous spring in a darkened hallway near the school’s auditorium. She couldn’t tell them which month the incident occurred, officials said, so they filed an internal report but didn’t turn the incident over to police.
A report filed by a security officer at Eckstein Middle School says a special-education student was sexually assaulted in the back of a bus by another student. That incident was never reported to police, but the district took steps to keep the two children separated, officials said.
In another case at Meany Middle School, the security officer reported that a 13-year-old boy sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl in the school’s auditorium.
The school did call the police, but after a short interview determined that the sex was consensual and suspended both children for lewd conduct. Later, the girl talked further with her parents, and police were notified again, but district officials said they lost track of the incident after that because the two children transferred out of the district.
McEvoy said the new computer system should improve reporting so the district can better keep track of how it is resolving cases.
“We really want to be able to tighten this up,” she said.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org