DeGrazia principal, 3 teachers indicted - The Explorer: Import

DeGrazia principal, 3 teachers indicted

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Posted: Wednesday, December 22, 2004 12:00 am | Updated: 7:48 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Dec. 15, 2004 - Four employees of DeGrazia Elementary School were indicted by a grand jury Dec. 9 for failing to report to law enforcement a 5-year-old student's allegations of sexual abuse.

DeGrazia Principal Julia Barwell, counselor Jennifer De La Montano, and kindergarten teachers Dorlis Menendez and Connie Jensen will face criminal charges because they did not immediately notify law enforcement or Child Protective Services when a DeGrazia kindergartener said her father had abused her.

The girl's father, Timothy Stephen, has pled guilty to two counts of sexual abuse with a minor and will be sentenced Dec. 17.

As a result of the indictment, the four DeGrazia employees have been placed on paid administrative leave, said Tamara Crawley, the district's community relations officer. Substitute teachers and an interim principal started work on Dec. 13 and will retain their positions for the duration of the trial, Crawley said. According to Arizona law, the indicted employees can remain on administrative leave until 10 days after sentencing in the trial. Crawley would not comment on any disciplinary action the district might take, regardless of the outcome of the trial.

Bill McCollum, the supervisor of the special victim's unit for the deputy county attorney, said he could not comment about the indictment. However, he said the next step in the judicial process would be the arraignment, when the defendants enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. He said the arraignment usually occurs two weeks after the indictment.

Failure to report sexual abuse is a Class 6 felony. If found guilty, the DeGrazia employees could face four months to two years in jail, McCollum said. The judge can put the employees on probation at his discretion if it's their first offense, McCollum said.

According to Pima County Sheriff's reports, the girl told Jensen Sept. 7 or 8 her father had abused her over the past few years, but Jensen did not know who to call to report the abuse. Over the next two days the information made its way through another kindergarten teacher and the school counselor before Barwell learned about the allegation Sept. 9. The incident was not reported until Sept. 10 when Barwell ran into Deputy Monica Torralba, DeGrazia's Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer.

According to sheriff's reports the girl may have been abused as recently as Sept. 9. On Sept. 10 Barwell asked Torralba if the student's claim was something that should have been reported.

The sheriff's report states that Torralba told Barwell the claim should have been reported immediately to 911. According Arizona law any person who "reasonably believes" that a child has suffered injury, abuse or neglect should immediately report that to a peace officer or CPS.

According to Torralba's report Barwell did not immediately report the child's allegation because she'd heard of situations where deputies investigating the claim will ask children if they want to have their father arrested. Torralba then told Barwell that she still should have made the report, and Barwell said that she understood.

Under advice from legal counsel, no one but Crawley would comment on the case for the district. All communication is being "streamlined" through the community relations office, Crawley said.

"The district will continue to work closely with legal counsel and maintain cooperation with judicial officers throughout this process while ensuring the continued educational needs of DeGrazia students are met," Crawley said.

In a previous interview, Crawley said that the district provides the school principals with "ongoing" training about where to report claims of sexual abuse. The principals then have the responsibility of relaying the information to the staff at their schools.

Crawley said the district has a comprehensive training program in place in accordance with Arizona's mandatory reporting law. She said that all district staff and new hires are required to complete this training and that it's in place throughout the district.

Some Marana school district principals said they attended a leadership seminar over the summer where various levels of law enforcement provided information about how to handle claims of abuse.

Principals said they passed along the information to their teachers and staff during meetings prior to the first day of school. Butterfield Elementary Principal Gayle Schmidt said she has provided staff and teachers at her school with information about where to report allegations of child abuse. She said the district has the necessary training procedures in place so that staff members know where to report abuse. Ironwood Elementary Principal Jennifer Vemich and Coyote Trail Elementary Principal Dan Johnson echoed Schmidt's statements.

Despite this, Torralba states in her sheriff's report that she informed Barwell about past instances where Marana school district officials failed to immediately report allegations of abuse.

In March 2004, the Department of Public Safety investigated MUSD officials for an incident that occurred between March and May of the previous year. The officials were not charged.

In that situation, district officials, including Thornydale Elementary Principal Lynnette Brunderman and former Superintendent Richard Lesko, conducted their own investigation into a girl's allegation that a bus driver had tickled her underneath her shirt and on her buttocks. The bus driver was never charged in the case.

In a recent interview, Brunderman said that case occurred before a new law was passed that clarifies that all allegations of child abuse must immediately be reported to CPS. She declined to compare the situations directly because the parents of the girl have filed a lawsuit against the Marana School district and the bus driver.

The lawsuit was filed by the parents of the girl last December and is set for trial June 7, said the family's attorney James Stuehringer. In the lawsuit the parents claim that the district's actions tainted the criminal investigation of the bus driver.

Former Superintendent Rick Lesko told a Northwest EXPLORER reporter earlier this year that interviews of the bus driver and children who rode the bus were needed to find out if anything worthy of reporting had occurred.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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