Cherry Creek, Colorado is an upscale neighborhood near central Denver. Average homes are in the ¾ million and higher dollar range. Its politics and schools are notoriously progressive, often embarrassingly so, and so it is again, as KDVR TV reports:
Cherry Creek School District and a third person were indicted on a charge that they failed to report suspected child abuse,
Principal David Gonzales, assistant principal Adrienne ‘A.J.’ MacIntosh and school counselor Cheryl Somers-Wegienka were named in the indictments.
Each are facing the same charge, a Class 3 misdemeanor, according to the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office.
The district said Gonzales and MacIntosh have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the court proceedings.
Their first court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 23.
The applicable statute:
19-3-304. Persons required to report child abuse or neglect.
(1) (a) Except as otherwise provided by section 19-3-307, section 25-1-122 (4)(d), C.R.S., and paragraph (b) of this subsection (1), any person specified in subsection (2) of this section who has reasonable cause to know or suspect that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect or who has observed the child being subjected to circumstances or conditions that would reasonably result in abuse or neglect shall immediately upon receiving such information report or cause a report to be made of such fact to the county department, the local law enforcement agency, or through the child abuse reporting hotline system as set forth in section 26-5-111, C.R.S.
School employees are specifically required by this statute to make such reports, and every school district in every state with a similar statute undergoes yearly reminders of their obligations under the law. The alleged abuser was one Brian Vasquez, a teacher at the school:
Vasquez was arrested in August on charges he sexually assaulted children. He is facing at least 31 felony counts.
Vasquez, 34, was originally charged with eight felony counts for the alleged physical abuse and exchanging of nude photos with several students.
Prosecutors at the time said they had discovered five victims but that there might be more. The increased number of charges does not indicate additional victims, the district attorney’s office said.
Vasquez, who had taught seventh- and eighth-grade social studies at the Aurora school since August 2011, has been placed on administrative leave by Cherry Creek Schools.
When the unnamed victim told school authorities that Vasquez had repeatedly abused her–I suspect it’s a “she”–and another student, they sought to cover up his alleged crimes rather than protect the student. Its not known exactly who the victim first approached, but it’s likely it was Cheryl Somers-Wegienka, a former counselor at the school. Such matters are often first handled by a counselor, who by policy and practice, then involve principals.
The indictments, coming from a grand jury, indicate MacIntosh and Gonzales pressured the victim to drop her complaint, saying it would harm Vasquez’s career and family.
“The victim said that Gonzales pressured her to recant her allegations and she was told she would be suspended from school for several days, the indictment says.
The indictment says that in a meeting with Gonzales, MacIntosh, Vasquez, a school counselor, and her parents, that she was forced to apologize to Vasquez and hug him at the end of the meeting.
If that wasn’t bad enough, consider this from The Denver Channel.com:
According to that affidavit, Vasquez told police last summer he ‘understood the relationships were illegal and he was waiting for the time when they were all revealed. Vasquez advised that he told himself that when his relationships with the juvenile students became known, he would take responsibility for his actions and pay the consequences.
In the meantime, he apparently thought it appropriate to continue to act to build up a larger number of consequences, and so did the principals.
During testimony to the grand jury, the indictment says MacIntosh said she was ‘generally aware of the District’s expectations regarding the immediate reporting any allegations of sexual abuse, she nonetheless believed it was her individual responsibility to conduct her own personal investigations of allegations of impropriety of any type on the part of school staff, before complying with her obligations under the law.
Right. In any state, principal’s certification requires substantial study of school law, and among such laws is always a principal’s duty in reporting child abuse and neglect. In fact, it is a principal’s job to ensure his faculty and other staff are trained in this duty. In the finest Clintonian tradition, MacIntosh couldn’t remember a thing:
Furthermore, the indictment says MacIntosh remembered ‘CV,’ [the victim] but claimed that she did not remember the sexual abuse claims. ‘MacIntosh further claimed that she could not remember her involvement in any aspect of the disciplinary process resulting in CV’s suspension from school, even when presented with official documentation from the school district bearing her signature, and confirming her presence’ at a meeting with the child victim, the girl’s parents, and Vasquez himself.
Perhaps that’s understandable. Perhaps that particular middle school has so many reports of sexual abuse of students by teachers, they’re so routinely covered up and the student’s suspended for being molested, MacIntosh just can’t be expected to remember them all. Golly! Who could be expected to remember such trivial, everyday matters?
The indictment says Cherry Creek Schools superintendent Harry Bull testified that it would be inappropriate to question an alleged victim of sexual abuse with the alleged perpetrator in the room, as Macintosh and Gonzales are accused of doing.
Gonzales also claimed to have no memory of the sexual abuse allegations against Vasquez, according to a summary of his testimony to the grand jury seen in the indictment.
See what I mean about sex abuse in that school being so common? What other reason could a principal have for failing to remember such an event? The Cherry Creek School District bravely addressed the issue in a letter to parents:
This letter is to inform you that two Prairie Middle School administrators, Principal David Gonzales and Assistant Principal A.J. MacIntosh, have been placed on leave pending the outcome of legal proceedings related to charges for failing to report child abuse. Former school counselor Cheryl Somers, who no longer works for the district, has also been named in the legal proceedings, all of which stem from a grand jury investigation. We will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement in this matter. It is important to note that at this time none of these three have been convicted of any crime.
Prairie has a strong school community and we will continue to work together with staff, teachers and parents to provide outstanding educational opportunities to all of our students. A plan is being developed to provide interim administrative support. We will communicate additional details by Friday, January 12.
Well, a strong but apparently corrupt school community. One wonders how long the District would have allowed the cover up to continue absent the indictments?
What makes this so extraordinary–and disgusting–is, as I’ve mentioned, the fact that all school employees, particularly principals, are constantly indoctrinated in several concepts, among the most important of which is the legal duty to immediately and personally report all instances of child abuse or neglect of any kind. Sexual contact of any kind with a teacher is at the very top of the child abuse category list. School employees are told, year after year, that failure to report will subject them to criminal charges and civil liability. Unlike police officers, school employees have no qualified immunity, and this too they are told—repeatedly. And principals, of all people, are responsible for ensuring continuing training of their staffs in this information and duty, and ensuring they carry it out without exception.
If what was disclosed in the grand jury indictment is accurate—one can’t always take that for granted—the principal’s actions are even more extraordinary. They pressured the victim to recant, apparently without evidence to suggest she was making a false report. Not only that, they questioned and/or berated her in the presence of Vasquez. Proper protocols for these matters are also taught and repeated, over and over. One never questions a victim in the presence of their potential abuser.
Even more incredible is the assertion the victim was made to apologize to Vasquez and hug him. Being forced to do that by the principals and counselor was arguably another act of child sexual abuse. Were I investigating the case, I would have pressed prosecutors for another count for that alone.
Upon conviction of the principals and counselor, and Vasquez, the Cherry Creek School District had better issue far more humble and specific statements to the public. And if they’re smart, they’ll roll over, expose their belly, and beg the victim’s parents not to hurt them too badly. If the facts as they’re currently known hold, her parents—and that young lady—are going to be wealthy indeed, and deservedly so.