WASHINGTON — A member of the DC State Board of Education is looking to strengthen sexual assault reporting policies after parents went unnotified about an alleged assault on a student.
Police said the alleged assault happened inside Ballou High School in Southeast D.C. back in mid-March. But school families said they were notified days later after one parent posted about it on a Facebook Live.
Community advocate Jewel Strowman sat in her car on March 21 and went live on Facebook, saying she had been contacted by a Ballou High School mom who alleged her daughter was sexually assaulted in the building. At the time, both Strowman and the mom said school families were not notified.
“I think, as a mom, other parents need to know about that!” Strowman said during the Facebook Live.
Dr. Carlene Reid represents Ward 8 on the State Board of Education. Reid drafted a resolution on "sexual assault in schools" in response after she saw Strowman's video.
“It was scary for the community because it almost sounded like someone was going inside the school and snatching up children!” said Reid who was tagged in the post. “I watched it at about eight at night and I couldn’t sleep. A lot of community members, even myself, have connections to sexual assault, violence, misconduct and it rattled a lot of community members.”
The next day, Ballou's principal sent a letter to families, reiterating its commitment to "fostering a safe and nurturing environment."
"Recently school administration was alerted to allegations of sexual misconduct on our campus," Principal Kenneth Walker wrote. "I want to acknowledge these distressing reports and recognize any allegations regarding our student’s safety and wellbeing are taken extremely seriously."
The letter went on to outline the school's reporting policies and investigation process, which Walker said includes contacting DC Police, contacting Child and Family Services Administration (CFSA) and contacting the Central Office CARE Team.
"We are enhancing several of our safety measures inside our building. Ballou staff and security have increased hallway and perimeter sweeps during the school day and will be reviewing security footage at more frequent intervals," Walker wrote. "They will also continue to partner with our school resource officers and MPD to prevent or address any incidents. I know that information such as this can raise concerns, but I want to reiterate that the safety and well-being of our students remain the top priority for our Ballou Knights."
According to a DC police report obtained by WUSA9, that letter to the Ballou community was sent one week after MPD and the Child and Family Services Agency were notified.
“The community wants you to be frank with them,” Reid said about the DCPS notification. "If you issue a notice early just to say, ‘this is what we know so far’ at least parents can talk to their children.”
Reid drafted her resolution calling for families to be notified sooner, students to be able to report anonymously, and more wrap-around services. based on the Ballou case and another at Duke Ellington.
“If we can make sure the child feels restored, the family feels restored and supported through the unfortunate incident, I frankly worry about that more than city leaders who are maybe trying to protect themselves or trying to cultivate the right message,” Reid said. “Our schools aren’t bubbles away from the ill will of society but it’s all about when things like that happen that a process is in place and we’re consistently following it.”
When asked for comment, DCPS responded with the following statement:
“DC Public Schools remains committed to fostering a safe and nurturing environment conducive to the learning and success of all students. We take any allegations regarding the safety and wellbeing of our students extremely seriously, as well as the process for investigating and supporting our community through these types of situations. School and district staff have taken several steps to enhance safety measures in the school building, including increased security hallway and perimeter sweeps, and an expanded review of security footage throughout the school day. Investigations into allegations are confidential to protect the privacy of affected individuals.”
The State Board's Advocacy and Outreach Committee will discuss Reid's resolution at its next meeting on May 27. Since the non-binding resolution cannot progress into law, DC Councilmembers will have to take on the issue at the Board's request.