Special Advertiser Content
Documents raise questions about abuse reporting as Putnam City addresses "culture" problem
BETHANY (KOKH) —
New documents reveal concerns about how a reported sexual assault on a student was reported to the state. The Putnam City School District said changes have been made and are continuing to happen to address what led to and followed the reported attack on a student.
It was Friday, September 28 when a young boy says he was held by classmates against his will and sexually assaulted. The kids called it hazing; police called it rape.
According to internal records obtained through an open records request, Putnam City West Principal Avery Gilliland received an email detailing the assault just a few hours after it occurred. In an email to district administrators following the public revelation of the assault, Gilliland said he didn’t read the email until 10:00 the following Saturday night.
Gilliland wrote that he was concerned about the details described in the email, which was submitted via a form on the school’s website. According to Putnam City Schools spokesman Steve Lindley, the email which had the subject line “sexual Assault Incident/28 Sept 2018” would have appeared in the principal’s main inbox.
“Monday is the first day that he can begin an investigation in earnest,” Lindley said in response to a question about why Gilliland did not notify anyone else until Monday morning.
While not mentioned in Gilliland’s narrative about the investigation, Lindley said the principal did notify campus police first thing Monday morning as well so they would be prepared to conduct interviews. However, upon learning the student was absent that day, Principal Gilliland said he worked on other issues relating to an arson report. There was no attempt to contact the named victim or his parents that morning.
“[Gilliland] asked someone to find out where the student was and the first report back to him was that the student was absent,” Lindley said, “And the second report back to him was that the student was on a school trip.”
The second report about notifying the principal the student was at school came around lunchtime according to Gilliland’s internal memo. He said he asked the student to call him and when he did the student confirmed the details of the assault.
Gilliland’s memo indicates he contacted the victim’s parents, campus police and Putnam City administrators.
“Everything he did Monday were things that needed to be done and so the investigation got off to a quick start and was off to a thorough start,” Lindley said.
However, Lindley wrote he did not call the state Department of Human Services hotline to report the abuse allegation, as required by law, until after the scheduled board meeting Monday evening.
Teachers and school administrators are considered “mandatory reporters” in Oklahoma. They are required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect of children to the DHS hotline. At the time, state law required teachers to “promptly” report cases to the state hotline. On November 1, 2018 an amended version of that law took effect which changed “promptly” to “immediately.”
While there is legal debate over what “prompt” means in Oklahoma, FOX 25 asked if Putnam City’s definition of prompt met these circumstances.
“What I can tell you here is we are running into an area where we are talking about a personnel matter and there are things here I just can't address,” Lindley said.
After the incident became public knowledge, Principal Gilliland sent another email to all staff members telling them discussions about the assault should not be happening in the classroom and told teachers to direct students who had questions to the office. In response to that email, another Putnam City West teacher wrote that student athletes were enforcing the edict to not discuss the matter to other students in the hallways and letting them know talking about the incident was not appropriate at school.
“I don't know for sure what students are telling each other,” Lindley said, “I know what the adults are telling the students, which is if you want to talk about this; if you have questions or concerns information please go to the office.”
Lindley said the email from Gilliland was not intended to silence students or teachers, but was meant to help facilitate the investigation into not only the current case but any past incidents of hazing or assault.
One teacher reported a senior football player said the “brooming” hazing had been around since he was a freshman. The teacher wrote the senior said it was attempted on him, but he didn’t allow it to happen and that it was usually directed at underclassmen who others wanted to quit the team.
An athletic staff member reported that they had heard stories of other hazing, but nothing “sexual” only incidents involving spanking or forcing kids to drink. The staff member said they never witnessed any of these and the coaches enforced discipline on the people responsible. Lindley said those past cases of hazing had been properly reported to administrators when they were first reported or heard by staff.
“From the information we received we reached out to 14 people and we asked them specific questions about what we had heard and what we had seen and what did you see what did you hear what happened,” Lindley said of the investigation. “But in the end not one of those people described a sexual assault.”
It is not uncommon for victims of sexual assault to remain silent according to researchers. In a previous FOX 25 Investigation, child abuse recovery specialists said getting a child, particularly young men and boys, to talk about an assault is one of the biggest challenges therapists face.
“To the extent we talked to victims and parents of victims, [I’m] not telling you we did or didn't, but to the extent that may have happened [victims or their family members] have chosen not to tell us,” Lindley said. “And I don't know who I would be, who you would be, who anyone would be, to tell them that they should do something different. People get to choose how they live their lives to have it turn out the; people who have experienced trauma get to choose how they will heal from that trauma and that may include talking with us or it may not.”
Lindley said the district is still seeking out students who may have experienced or heard about past assaults or other hazing incidents.
While there have been no additional confirmations of sexualized hazing discovered, Putnam City said it is clear there is a culture problem that needs to be, and is being, addressed.
“When you do research and when you look at incidents all across the county that are very similar to this. When you read what researchers say what experts say in all probability there is some sort of culture there.”
In the wake of the assault, Putnam City changed rules for its locker rooms at both middle and high schools. The schools are all required to have a duty schedule to ensure monitoring of locker rooms any time students are present and make sure locker rooms are locked at all other times.
“Our district legal counsel met with all school principals earlier this month and talked with them about the need for prompt reporting to DHS,” Lindley said.
The district has also formed a task force to address the culture that may have led to an incident of violent, sexualized hazing. Lindley said the district hopes to train all faculty and staff on ways to prevent hazing and they are hoping to begin with webinars or other training for district coaches as early as January. The district will also address hazing with students to help them identify what hazing is and how to report it.
The goal is to end any form of hazing, whether it is sexualized or not.
“We recognize that we are in a line of schools and school districts that have had such things happen,” Lindley said. “What we want to be, is in the line of school districts who recognize what has happened, act on it and eradicate the culture that allowed it to happen and do everything possible to make sure it never happens again.”