SPECIAL REPORT: Sexual predators within school system
NORTHUMBERLAND, Va. (WTVR)— Parents of students in one local school system said that crimes involving staff members have been covered up. What happens when someone you
Imaya Brown, a sophomore at Northumberland High School, is good at solving math problems—but she is confronted with another type of problem at school, one harder to solve.
“What made them do that? You know?” asks Brown.
She’s talking about two adults in the small, tight-knit, Northumberland County school system.
This year alone, Christopher, “C.J.” Richardson, a former elementary school teacher, admitted to oral sodomy with a male student under 13-years-old.
Also, Derek Jones, a sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer is charged with carrying on a sexual relationship with a female student.
“How did all this stuff happen so quickly? It’s like, once one thing happened, another thing happened,” said Brown. “It was just too much.”
Brown said that what one of her classroom teachers told her next, confused her even more.
“What’s said in this room, stays in this room,” is what was told to Brown, she said.
That infuriated parents like Lesli Hunter, who has three kids in Northumberland schools. “They have intentionally kept parents in the dark,” said Hunter.
According to Virginia Department of Education guidelines, schools aren’t required to notify parents about cases involving sexual misconduct. They are only required to tell law enforcement and the department of social services within 72 hours of a reported incident.
Superintendent of Northumberland County Public Schools, Clint Stables told CBS 6 that they never tried to keep information about Richardson and Jones hidden. Stables said it took nearly a week to notify parents of these crimes because they wanted to protect the victims and the investigation.
“I think that creates frustration because of course, people want to know,” said Stables. “They want to know who is involved.”
“They want to know who has been hurt,” he said. “I’m not sure we could have handled things much differently.”
State lawmakers and school leaders passed tougher notification guidelines in 2011 after finding that many superintendents failed to report, and at times have covered up and defended educators who have been found guilty of sexual misconduct.
Investigators found this occurred because school leaders wanted to avoid bad publicity and legal liabilities.
Richardson and Jones join a growing list of educators dismissed because of allegations of sexual impropriety with students. Since 2010, 40 Virginia educators have had their teaching licenses revoked after being convicted of sexual misconduct with a student.
Rachel Teagle, Director of Youth and Family Services for the Northern Neck said this problem continues to grow because people don’t want to talk about it.
C.J. Richardson was caught because a parent found a note from the teacher in their child’s book bag, according to school officials and police were tipped off about Derek Jones from another student.
“It happens in secret,” said Teagle. “We don’t want to believe it could be happening in our community and we don’t want to believe it has happened.”
Teagle also said it’s even tougher for children to come forward or even see it as a crime because they have a close bond with the perpetrator, someone they also want to protect.
“It’s someone they cross paths with every day,” said Teagle. “It’s someone they’re in a relationship with–forming a relationship with a child is often a big part of the process of preparing to molest someone.”
The United States of Department of Education recently submitted reports to Congress on this matter. One study suggests that as many as 50 percent of children have been subjected to some form of sexual misconduct by an adult at school.
Following the incidents in Northumberland, investigators received tips and investigated two other questionable student-teacher relationships.
Director of the Northumberland Department of Social Services, Sharon Fisher, told CBS 6, that the department stepped in, just in time to prevent those relationships from crossing the line. “I suspect there will be additional reports of actual abuse,” she said.
Hunter said she is seriously considering homeschooling her children next year. “This school year has been a major distraction for all three of my children.”
Contrary to that, Brown wants to stay in school, but, is trying to adjust to a new relationship with her teachers. “I used to talk to my coach in a very friendly way…but now, you have to be more serious,” she said.
“You can’t say whatever you want or play with them,” said Brown.
Stables called this school year the worst during his tenure as superintendent. He is retiring at the end of the year.
Here is the state guide for prevention of sexual misconduct: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/guidance/safety/prevent_sexual_misconductabuse.pdf