Jean Marquez, the mother of a third-grade autistic boy who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a fellow classmate at the problematic Crowell Elementary School last school year, says her efforts to find accountability for the incident were covered up by Turlock Unified School District administration personnel.
On July 17, Marquez hand delivered a letter to the offices of TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Heidi Lawler, Director of Student Services Gil Ogden and Director of Special Education Jeff Santos among others, detailing not only the circumstances of the alleged sexual assault, but also the sequence of events that led up to the assault and other bullying incidents.
The district administration reports to the TUSD Board of Trustees, who are elected officials who work for the taxpayers of Turlock, parents and students of TUSD schools, and oversee the school district.
Despite the letter being delivered on July 17, on Aug. 19 (34 days later) TurlockCityNews.com contacted TUSD Trustees Bob Weaver, Frank Lima and Jennifer Carter, and it was discovered that neither they or anyone on the Board was aware of the letter or any of the specific details of the very serious allegations, despite a torrid history of very public and disturbing problems at Crowell Elementary.
The Board of Trustees and district administration had met at least twice in closed session meetings between July 17 and Aug. 19.
“Of course it’s obvious there was a cover-up, they [district administration] didn’t want their bosses [Board of Trustees] to find out they had another serious incident at Crowell,” said Marquez, whose own mother is a 23-year teacher in the district. “They care about covering themselves and not the safety of my son or holding those responsible accountable. I only brought this to the public because everyone I sent the letter to ignored me or gave me the runaround and certainly no one apologized to me for what happened to my son.”
By definition, “a cover-up is an attempt, whether successful or not, to conceal evidence of wrongdoing, error, incompetence or other embarrassing information. In a passive cover-up, information is simply not provided; in an active-cover-up, deception is used.”
“Our focus throughout the investigation continued to be meeting the needs of the student in the most appropriate, effective learning environment while making the necessary accommodations. TUSD’s investigation concluded last spring, which mirrored the inconclusive findings of the Stanislaus County Child Protective Services and the Turlock Police Department,” Da Marto said in an email response to TurlockCityNews.com
Following the alleged sexual assault, Marquez said Crowell Principal Linda Alaniz did not immediately notify her of the assault. Alaniz allegedly told Marquez, “kids will be kids.”
On April 30 the alleged assault was reported to the Turlock Police Department by the Marquez family’s private counselor, not by anyone in TUSD or at Crowell School. A police report from Turlock Police Department did not reach any conclusions, but only documented the boy’s testimony.
Da Marto did not return a comment when asked why no one from TUSD reported the incident and allegation to authorities either when the letter was delivered or when the initial concerns were brought to Alaniz’s attention? Alaniz and all of the people listed in the letter are all Mandated Reporters.
Board Balks at “Obvious” Cover-Up
“No, no, not a cover up. Evidently, administration didn’t feel it was warranted to bring up to us,” Board of Trustees President Bob Weaver commented on the cover-up issue. “The Board’s job is direction and overseeing administration — who run the day-to-day operations.”
Lima also denied a cover up.
“The administration does not cover anything up, having said that should we have known about it before it became public? Yes we should have. This is very disappointing. We’ve got a real management problem at Crowell and it needs to be addressed.”
Lima, Weaver and fellow Trustee Deborah Martin explained that the Board of Trustees is not given the information for every incident at every school every day. However, none of them felt it was an egregious error by district administration, namely Da Marto, in failing to alert them, despite public incidents like a student-to-student stabbing, an onslaught of parents publicly complaining about bullying problems at Crowell, a silent protest by Crowell teachers and families demanding the removal of Principal Linda Alaniz and scathing public comments from teachers about her leadership style and character.
“I think it’s a judgment call,” said Martin. “There is a lot of things that happen, the Board does not make decisions, we set policy and give direction. In my opinion the district staff felt they had made positive steps in moving forward with the mother. I don’t think they blew it. Steps had been taken and she was working with Jeff Santos to move forward at [the boy’s new school] and I think that is the right thing to do.”
While it may not seem apparent to TUSD Board of Trustees, Rob Santos, a Board member on the Chatom Union School District and the Turlock Irrigation District, says “Yes, of course” he and his fellow board members would have expected administration to notify them of such an allegation, especially given a school with such a troubled past.
“It’s a reflection of the superintendent. He wants to keep the board in up the air, control issues,” said Santos.
Chatom is a much smaller district than TUSD, however a troubled school is a troubled school no matter how big the district.
Marquez says the Board is missing the entire point.
“It’s not like Jeff Santos and administration moved him to [his new school] or took him out because of what happened,” she said. “He phased out of Crowell. They only have an autism program until third-grade at Crowell, he is now in fourth-grade and we live in the [new school’s] boundary.
“Its kind of scary to think that board could just be that blind. I am filing a complaint with the State of California and I’ve already started talking to a lawyer and I will sue them if I can and its not even about the money, I’ll probably end up donating it to Autism Speaks. It’s more about them being held accountable for what happened to my son and how they tried to bury it in the past and forget about it.”