Plano Star-courier > News
Hunt parent meetings end quietly
Plano ISD made a second attempt at directly communicating with parents regarding student safety following the arrest of a Hunt Elementary teacher last month for sexual misconduct with a student.
The district hosted an all-day series of small group meetings Monday. Parents had to sign up for the meetings, which were closed to the public and media, at least five days in advance to attend.
About 30 people signed up for the meetings, which the district promised would provide information from Superintendent Richard Matkin and the district's human resources, safety and security services, and campus services departments regarding district practices and protocols.
Parent Rose Ritchie attended the final meeting of the day. Upon leaving, she said the meeting was an improvement over the larger one held Oct. 23, which Matkin ended early after angry parents began raising their voices to demand the district explain how it will prevent abuse from happening at the campus again.
The information presented at the smaller meetings included details on background checks for teachers, the installation of 48 additional cameras at Hunt and additional teacher training, which will clarify to the faculty what activity they should report, when to report it and who to report it to, Rose said.
The ability to meet security officials and counselors face-to-face was an aspect of the meeting Rose said she appreciated. However, she said, more details are needed on the escalation process for abuse allegations, and she still has concerns about the new security cameras' ability to save video for extended periods of time. The new cameras only have two to three weeks of retention, district staff told her.
"Anything that happens beyond that, you wouldn't have any record at all" she said.
Physical education teacher Todd Reich was arrested Oct. 16 amid allegations he had sexual contact with one of his students in late 2009 and early 2010. The allegations follow the May 2010 arrest of Joseph Garbarini, a kindergarten teacher at the same campus, who was sentenced to 62 years in prison last year for playing out sexual fantasies involving diapers with his students.
One aspect of the case that remains shrouded in mystery is a sentence in Reich's arrest affidavit that states he was told to stay away from the victim by the campus' former principal, an order which he defied. Plano ISD and the Collin County Sheriff's Office, the agency that arrested Reich, both declined to give further details on that part of the affidavit.
Sparking further curiosity is a statement by the district that "allegations" were made against Reich during the same time period of the alleged abuse. The district has said it cannot release details about the allegations because that information is "evaluative" and therefore confidential. The district has also said the allegations do not involve improper contact with any student.
David Anderson, general council for the Texas Education Agency, said teacher personnel files are generally open to the public, barring personal information such as social security numbers and home addresses. Districts have successfully argued in court, however, that documents relating to the reprimanding of a teacher constitute "evaluative" information, which is protected under the state of Texas' Public Information Act, he said.
"There are some things they just can't release ... and that's a very broad topic," he said. "There are some court cases that really stretch that to reprimands as evaluating a teacher."
In addition to installing the cameras, the district has said windows will be installed on all solid classroom and office doors at Hunt.
When asked if other elementary campuses have solid doors on classrooms and offices, district spokeswoman Lesley Range-Stanton said installation of the windows is "a new measure going forward, starting with Hunt." Regarding security cameras, Range-Stanton said Hunt and all other schools will be upgraded to the new standards for cameras coming from the 2008 bond program.
No policy changes have been implemented following either of the incidents reported at Hunt, though the district has commissioned a third-party review of human resources practices, Range-Stanton said.
Meanwhile, Rose's husband, Ritchie, who did not attend the meeting, said both he and his wife were disappointed in the turnout of parents at both meetings. He said he believes parents are the ones who can bring about change from in the district.
"If they're interested in listening, and [a large percentage] of their parents are showing up at these meetings, they'll take it seriously," he said.
Information and feedback gathered at the meeting from parents will be considered for the campus' Violence Prevention and Bullying Improvement Program by current Hunt Principal Arron Moeller, the district said.