LINCOLN CITY — Multiple parents of Oceanlake Elementary School students showed up to the Lincoln County School Board meeting Tuesday night, expressing concern the school district and Oceanlake staff aren’t properly handling situations involving alleged sexual harassment between students.
School administrators meanwhile say confidentiality rules prevent them from offering a detailed response to the claims, but they’ll share investigation results when they are complete.
The Oregon Department of Education is investigating at least one incident involving the claim that a student was sexually assaulted by a classmate in full view of another student last school year, one of several incidents involving the student said to be victimized. That student’s mother, Tiffany Hill, posted about the situation on Facebook in March and was one of the several parents to confront the school board about the perceived inaction Tuesday.
“This happened around 11 a.m. and I was not notified until 3 p.m. and my son was left scared, terrified and spent the rest of the day by himself,” Hill said of her son’s attack. “This student threatened my son, and in January started taunting my son once again.”
After the first incident, Hill requested her son be moved to a different classroom so as not to be in the same class as his attacker, but was denied. Two weeks later, she said during the school board meeting, Hill’s son was moved after he and his attacker exchanged threats on school grounds. The change in class caused Hill’s son to have a meltdown at school, she said.
“I felt if my child had been allowed to change classes when I made the request in March , all these altercations would have been avoided,” she said.
There were additional claims of incidents involving sexual misconduct and Hill’s son. At a later date, Hill said, she walked her child onto the school bus to find a fully naked student sitting right behind the bus driver. The school district and the bus company, she said, never adequately addressed her concerns.
Other incidents in which Hill’s son were victimized continued to happen at school, which she said the school district never notified her about. Eventually, she felt compelled to withdraw her son from the school district and homeschool him.
Other Oceanlake Elementary School parents complained the student-to-teacher ratio is too high, allowing situations like the ones surrounding Hill’s son. One parent complained her autistic son had his shoes taped to him so he couldn’t take them off on campus.
“I was told that was the way they were going to handle him taking off his shoes,” said Kara Johnson, the autistic son’s mother. “He’s autistic. He has ticks. He doesn’t like wearing shoes.”
To address the problems her son faced in the classroom, Johnson asked for half-days for her son, but said the request was denied by the school. Two doctors’ notes requesting half-days for Johnson’s son similarly were rejected, prompting Johnson to withdraw her son from the school district to homeschool him.
“He’s now eating, gaining weight and he knows how to spell his name the right way,” she said to the school board. “His teachers need help. We need help. When are we to get it?”
Hill, after hearing what other parents had to say, again addressed the school board, saying she wanted to see a lower student-to-teacher ratio in local schools and after incidents like the ones her son faced at school, parents should be notified immediately.
“I would like to see school district policy change, with better parent communication as an expectation,” Hill said. “I want to see a district policy added placing a cap of no more than 22 students in a classroom. It’s hard to keep students safe with more than 25 students in one classroom. If there would’ve been less students in my son’s class, maybe the teacher would have noticed three children missing.”
The parents weren’t the only ones with a platform to speak their minds Tuesday night. Karen Gray, the superintendent of the school district, said there wasn’t much they could say on the subject since the incident involving Hill’s son was under investigation by ODE. However, she added the school district takes student safety seriously and that the district wasn’t in much of a position to say anything.
“You are hearing one side of the coin, not any investigatory rebuttal to anything,” Gray said. “You’re not going to hear it here, because that’s not what we do. We’re not going to sit here arguing or presenting information about children that’s confidential.”
While the incident involving Hill’s son is under investigation, Gray said she couldn’t speak to the district’s side of the issue.
“When the investigation results come out, we’ll be reporting that to the media,” Gray said. “We’re just not there yet."