Saturday, November 07, 2009

Principal of visually impaired school resigned!

The state is investigating an alleged inappropriate sexual incident between students Wednesday at the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired that led to the school’s director resigning after she was placed on leave.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said Monday that he is also concerned about — and is conducting his own investigation into — allegations that there has not been an “open atmosphere” at the school for the blind for adults who work there to report allegations of sexual misconduct.

“This is a very recent allegation,” Pastorek said. “We can’t and won’t tolerate an atmosphere where people feel like they can’t report these kinds of sexual incidents.”

The state Department of Education found out last week from a teacher that two students “went off together and had inappropriate contact on Wednesday,” Pastorek said.

The state immediately launched an investigation and Janet Ford, the director of the school, was placed on non-disciplinary leave Thursday pending the investigation’s outcome, said Rene Greer, communications director for the state Department of Education.

But Ford resigned Friday and did not tell the state why, Greer said. “She had planned on resigning, but not until the end of the 2009-2010 school year,” Greer said.

Greer said the state is also investigating another alleged inappropriate sexual incident between students that apparently occurred in May.

“We’re investigating it and trying to confirm the details,” Greer said.

Pastorek said the state is approaching the problems at the school for the blind “in an appropriate but aggressive and proactive manner.”

“We know the adults have the responsibility to maintain proper supervision over the students,” he said. “But it appears as though we weren’t able to maintain that.”

The school for the blind moved onto the 116-acre campus of the Louisiana School for the Deaf on Brightside Lane in July as a cost-saving measure for the state. As of July, the two schools had a combined student population of 250.

The two schools are maintaining separate identities but are sharing some key services such as security, human resources, food services and maintenance.

The school for the deaf was closed temporarily a year ago after there were allegations of sexual misconduct on the campus, including the rape of a 6-year-old girl.

Security at the campus was beefed up, including the installation of security cameras.

Pastorek said the state has also worked on raising students expectations of themselves.

“Where you have a history of inappropriate sexual behaviors you have to work pretty hard to create a new culture,” he said. “We have made significant gains.”

The school for the blind has about 85 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Some live in dorms on campus while others commute daily to the school, Greer said.

Managing such residential schools is complex, Pastorek said, but he plans to be as open as possible about the investigation.

“We have to be candid about what’s going on,” he said. “Parents are expecting us to keep their kids as safe as we can. The only way that can happen is for the adults who are at the school to feel open to report these kinds of things.”

Pastorek said he is most concerned about complaints that there has not been such an atmosphere at the school and he will conduct his own investigation to find out whether that’s true.

“It’s sort of a ‘come what may’ kind of thing,” he said. “It’s never pleasant but it’s what we must do.”

Greer said the state reported the alleged incident between the two students to the Office of Community Services. OCS is also expected to conduct an investigation separate from the one that the state Department of Education is conducting.

Greer said that at this point the state has not reported the alleged incident to law enforcement authorities because no obvious laws appear to be broken. However, Greer did say that the OCS can also report the allegations to authorities.


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