HEAR NOT EVIL

A DEAF STUDENT SOUNDED THE ALARM; A HUSH FELL OVER THE SCHOOL.

Although school officials insist security was tightened at the school and on its buses in the wake of the attacks on Michael Johnson, another molestation earlier this year--the second at the school in 18 months--lends credence to parental concerns.

In that case, a 17-year-old boy allegedly sodomized a 6-year-old boy. According to the younger boy's lawyer, the only reason that the 17-year-old wasn't arrested and prosecuted was because a semen sample taken from the youngster's rectum was lost by a hospital. The family is contemplating a lawsuit, alleging the school failed in its duty to protect the child.

Mary Jane Nichols, president of HEARS Inc. (Hearing Education and Rehabilitation Society), an advocacy organization for parents of Arizona's deaf children, says that the molestations and other incidents--including occasions where deaf children have been left locked in the school nurse's office and in buses after school hours--were enough to cause her to join an increasing number of parents who are pulling their children out of PDSD for safety reasons.

"At first you might think it is just a bunch of paranoid parents whining," says Nichols of complaints about PDSD. "But when you get enough parents in a room together telling similar stories, you begin to believe there is something really wrong at that school."
@rule:
@body:Marci Johnson didn't waste any time after she discovered that her son had been repeatedly molested. The night Michael told her about events on the bus--May 27, 1992--she immediately phoned PDSD principal Jay Farman at home.

"I told him what was going on, and, I swear, he said, 'I'm in the middle of watching a basketball game, can this wait?'" Marci remembers. "I said, 'Hell, no, it can't wait.'" It was, she says, a discouragingly prophetic beginning. Farman agreed to meet the Johnsons the next morning at his PDSD office, where the parents demanded that David be immediately taken off Michael's bus. Farman agreed, and he also promised to interview David about the incident.

The Johnsons then gave Farman the names of two other children that Michael said had also been molested, little girls named Julie and Becky, and asked if perhaps the police should be consulted. But Farman demurred.

"I got the sense he preferred that the situation go away," Chuck Johnson recalls, "or, failing that, he wanted to handle it in-house.

"He had a bit of the 'I don't want to talk about this' syndrome."
Farman, 65, now retired from his post as principal, admits he didn't want to involve the police at this stage. "I felt like it was the [Johnsons'] decision to inform the police if they wanted to," he remembers. "They were aware of the situation, so it wasn't my place. It was a courtesy to them to allow them to make the decision."

That "courtesy," however, may have been against the law.
A section of the Arizona Criminal Code, on the books since 1989, obligates school officials to notify police or the state office of Child Protective Services as soon as they learn a molestation may have occurred.

Olga Shroyer, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, says the notification rule is "absolutely not discretionary."

"Our position is that the law requires any school official who learns of a possible molestation to call the proper officials immediately," Shroyer says. "And that means the same day they find out about it." Farman's argument that notification was unnecessary because the Johnsons were "aware of the situation" seems to directly undermine the intent of the law: The whole point of expanding responsibility for reporting abuse of children to school officials is to provide a backstop in instances where the parents are indeed "aware"--because they themselves are the abusers. As Shroyer points out, the educator's job is to sound the alarm, not make value judgments that give "discretion" to the parents.

In any event, it would seem as though Farman's duty to notify the police was even more clear-cut when it came to the other children identified by Michael as possible victims--children whose parents were blissfully unaware that their kids might have been molested.

Not only did Farman fail to notify authorities about those possible attacks, he admits that he did not bother to warn the parents themselves--even after David confessed to the principal that he had, in fact, molested Michael.

@rule:
@body:Shortly after his meeting with the Johnsons, Farman and a school counselor met with David--who, according to police reports, "admitted that he had pulled Michael's pants down and . . . had touched his penis."

In addition, Farman had reason to know that David was potentially violent. "He causes problems at home," Farman said at the time. "His mother cannot control him."

While Farman was compiling this information, the Johnsons made a decision to call the police on their own. But during the almost two weeks between the time the family alerted authorities and the day a detective contacted Farman to discuss the molestation charges, the principal remained inexplicably silent about David's confession. When an officer did finally call Farman--on June 9--he did relate the confession story, but seemed reluctant to cooperate in the overall investigation.

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