Cedar Rapids school board members must lead, not hide

Board President John Laverty (left), Superintendent Brad Buck and Board Secretary Laurel Day review the number of submissions for public comment before a Cedar Rapids school board meeting at the Educational Leadership and Support Center (ELSC) in northwest Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. Monday's meeting was the first since the resignation of Washington High School Principal Ralph Plagman following a substitute teacher's affair with a student. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Board President John Laverty (left), Superintendent Brad Buck and Board Secretary Laurel Day review the number of submissions for public comment before a Cedar Rapids school board meeting at the Educational Leadership and Support Center (ELSC) in northwest Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. Monday's meeting was the first since the resignation of Washington High School Principal Ralph Plagman following a substitute teacher's affair with a student. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

There are many unanswered questions in the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s handling of a substitute teacher’s inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old student. Among them:

Why did school officials — trained in how to investigate these cases in September — fail to follow district policies? Why didn’t anyone notify police?

Is the district offering voluntary retirements rather than sanctioning officials who failed to follow district procedure and Iowa law?

Has the young victim been offered counseling?

Why didn’t anyone notice the lapsed certification of investigators trained to handle these types of incidents?

Will the district’s investigation of Washington High School’s response to alleged sexual exploitation of a student be thorough enough to fully expose possible systemic failures and protect from potential future breakdowns? The public needs and deserves a full accounting.

We understand that discretion and patience are called for during the investigation, and that student confidentiality must be respected. Still, we are disappointed by the lukewarm public response of Cedar Rapids school board members, who represent the parents and taxpayers of the district.

It took the better part of two weeks for President John Laverty to publicly address the issue with a paltry, prepared statement, and even that seemed an attempt to ease concerns about the departure of a beloved principal. Board member Gary Anhalt spoke for seconds on the issue; no other board members have publicly addressed the district’s apparent failure to protect this student or the lackluster policies that allowed an ongoing abusive relationship to fester.

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The lack of public board discussion of this matter is unacceptable. Members must make their direction to district staff in the public arena. It’s a key piece of maintaining public trust.

Superintendent Brad Buck not only has reminded the community of the sensitive nature of this matter, but also has proposed five areas where district training and policies could be strengthened. Such changes will begin quickly, he promised, as students return for another school year.

That is a start, and the type of leadership the community also deserves from its elected officials.

The public wants to hear from its duly elected school officials, not be offered vague platitudes and assurances.

Board members should be scrambling to restore public trust and confidence, but it appears they are confused, at best, about to whom they are elected to serve.

• Comments: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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