AURORA, Colo. — A growing chorus of Cherry Creek Schools parents, upset about the way the district deals with allegations of sexual assault, are calling for change.
Many are demanding the district to fire or change leadership. Others are stepping forward with stories of abuse of their kids at school.
One of those parents contacted the FOX31 Problem Solvers last week after seeing an investigation that revealed the district has failed to report at least 30 sex assaults to state regulators.
The woman’s identity was protected because her elementary-school-aged girl is the reported victim of sex assaults.
“My daughter has been sexually assaulted at her school,” the mother said. “And I feel like they’re protecting the person who is doing the wrong thing. Why wouldn’t you protect the victim?”
Considered a great student who loves her teacher, the parent said her daughter didn’t have a chance to deflect the alleged violent assault.
However, after the worst of the assaults happened, the girl did what every student-victim is supposed to do.
Reporter: Your daughter immediately told an adult at the school?
Mom: Yes. Yes. Right when it happened.
Reporter: And they didn’t call you?
Mom: Nope. They didn’t call me.
The district did what it has been found to do all too often when one student sexually assaults another: Considered the assault another life learning lesson for the victim and the alleged perpetrator.
“I went to the school and they basically told me they’d have the kid say ‘sorry’ — and ‘that they know the special needs of all the students’ — they’re aware of what needs to happen, but they can’t tell me anything,” the mother said.
“I would have been none the wiser about it if my daughter wasn’t comfortable talking to me about it. She came home and told me what happened and I called them the next day and told them, I hope they’re not busy because I’m coming down to the school.
“They basically told me they were going to keep the kids separated. I didn’t see any kind of paperwork saying this was even a sexual assault.”
The Aurora Police Department does not have a sex assault incident report on file for the time period in which the parent said her daughter was sexually assaulted in an after-school bus line.
“As soon as we received a report by a parent that an incident occurred at school, we took immediate and appropriate action to investigate,” the district said in a statement.
“We reached out to all parents involved and took steps to ensure student safety. The safety and wellbeing of our students is always our highest priority.”
Jodi Byrnes is one of this country’s leading child sexual abuse forensic interviewers. She works at the Denver Children’s Advocacy Center.
She said school districts must stop trying to protect their reputations and start putting victims first.
“I think that kind of intervention can lead a child to think they are not being believed,.” Byrnes said. “And kids don’t want to get in trouble or not get the other person in trouble necessarily, they just want the harassment — the bullying — abuse to stop.
“And so again for those trusted adults, trusted professionals to report what they are mandated to report is important.”
An extensive investigation proved that’s not always happening at Cherry Creek schools.
By reviewing thousands of police calls to schools from the last four semesters, at least 30 incidents of student-on-student sexual violence — from gang-related rapes to forced fondling, from high schools to elementary schools — were found.
Yet, Cherry Creek reported zero sexual assault incidents to the Colorado Department of Education as required under mandatory reporting laws.
In addition, multiple cases were found where Cherry Creek school employees allegedly failed to call police or tell social services as required by law.
And in a familiar pattern, when police were called to the schools for sexual assault, many times it was a school resource officer or SRO handling the investigation.
On multiple occasions, “police” settled the sex assault complaint not by forwarding the case for prosecution, but with a stern lecture aimed at the alleged perpetrator.
A Greenwood Village police officer wrote about an incident that uncovered at a Cherry Creek high school.
The previously confidential “sex assault incident” report states: “I issued (redacted) a written warning for sexual assault and explained to him about his behavior and how it could get him into future trouble. I explained that if a girl or woman says stop or no it means exactly that. I advised him that (redacted) did not want him charged as they used to be friends but if she had, it would have been serious.”
Burns said that kind of police work does nothing but harm victims and future criminal investigation.
“We might want them to get minimal facts to report, then let the professionals who are trained to investigate abuse investigate,” said Burns.
The parent, whose daughter was reportedly molested at school, worries every day that it’s her victim-child, not the perpetrator, who must face consequences because of the decisions made by Cherry Creek school district leaders.
“My kid can’t ride the bus now because this same boy is on the bus. All I can do is remove her from the situation even though she’s done nothing wrong,” she said.
“My kid has several tardies and absences because sometimes she’s so sick to her stomach, she doesn’t want to go to school — she can’t ride the bus. The kid is in her class. The other time when she got touched on her little butt on the playground. Where is she safe?”
Parents have their chance to be heard Monday night, the first school board meeting since the “School of Secrets” investigation.
The district website lists the board meeting at 7 p.m. at Summit Elementary School (18201 E. Quincy Ave., Aurora).
School board rules allow for parents to sign up to speak to the board about concerns during an open portion of the meeting.