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Investigation confirms sexual misconduct at Steamboat high school

Investigation also finds 'lack of support, lack of transparency, failures in communication, failures in responsiveness and safety and security'

Steamboat Springs High School
John F. Russell/staff

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A report from independent investigator Jane Quimby indicated sexual misconduct did occur at Steamboat Springs High School, but she said the behavior was “not rampant or horrible.”

Quimby, of Quimby and Associates, is a former FBI agent hired by the Steamboat Springs School District to investigate the culture at the high school related to the alleged mishandling of claims of sexual harassment made by student victims to the administration. She attended the Steamboat Springs School Board meeting on Monday, March 9, to give her report in person. Her first update to the board was provided in writing Feb. 10.

“Yes, bad stuff happened, but things at the high school in general are very good and very positive,” Quimby said. “I don’t believe there was any kind of intentional malfeasance. … People are doing their best given the circumstances. I want to make that clear.”

Following 75 in-person interviews and a review of countless documents, Quimby said she identified 28 cases with a sexual misconduct component over the last four years. Seven of those occurred off campus, she said, three are internet- or social-media related, and 12 involved some type of referral to law enforcement.

“It has negatively impacted people — students — and depending on how you look at it, a small but very significant number,” Quimby said. “But in my mind, and I hope you will agree, one student impacted in this way is too many. We need to be committed to not letting it happen to anyone.”

She also acknowledged those are only the cases that were reported.

One part of Quimby’s investigation focused on policies and procedures and the other focused on specific allegations of sexual misconduct.

“Lack of communication and timely responsiveness is a huge issue all across the board,” Quimby told board members. “You need to address that.”

The investigation is ongoing, but changes have and will continue to be made during its duration, including Quimby’s recommendation in early February to put Principal Kevin Taulman on paid administrative leave.

Quimby addressed “misinformation circulating in the community, and the need for people to remember that just because they think there haven’t been any consequences for actions deemed inappropriate, doesn’t mean actions haven’t been taken.

“The protection of privacy is of paramount importance,” she said.

Quimby cited many instances in which she would like to provide people with more facts, but confidentiality requirements prevent her and the district from doing so. And just because the information is not publicly available does not mean it is being covered up, Quimby added.

She urged people to remember that all experiences are different, and those differences must be respected.

“You can’t dismiss those people that might have had negative experiences where they felt they were not supported and where they felt they weren’t believed and that this has been very, very challenging for them,” Quimby said. “It is happening. I think it is really a disservice as a community to act like A — nothing has happened, or B — if it hasn’t happened to me, it’s not going on.”

Title IX issues

Five of the 28 cases were categorized as “full-fledged Title IX,” Quimby said.

Quimby talked to the board extensively about Title IX, the portion of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972 that states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

According to an April 2011 letter issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.”

The law protects both victims and accusers, Quimby emphasized.

One of Quimby’s first recommendations was the need for more Title IX training for every district employee and additional training for those “on the front line.” In reviewing the 28 cases, she cited a “lack of consistency and a lack of clarity in terms of what the policies and procedures are.”

District policies have already been updated as of Feb. 5, but Advocates of Routt County Executive Director Lisel Petis urged the board during public comment to go further.

It’s a “step in the right direction,” she said. “But we could be a leader — people could look to our district.”

Quimby also recommended the district hire someone to deal specifically with Title IX issues and not be based in any of the schools. She also suggested a Title IX point person be identified within each school, including at the elementary and middle school levels.

Following Quimby’s presentation, Superintendent Brad Meeks and the board discussed efforts already underway to add someone with Title IX expertise to the district staff— whether it be a full-time position, a position shared with other districts or a contractual position.

Other issues noted

Throughout the course of her investigation, Quimby also noted a number of other issues including “lack of support, lack of transparency, failures in communication, failures in responsiveness, and safety and security.”

“It would be irresponsible of me not to listen and take those concerns seriously,” Quimby said.

Petis said the number of cases reviewed by Quimby was actually higher than she anticipated, and Petis reiterated the total does not include unreported incidents. And with only five cases classified under Title IX, “that makes me worry that certain students weren’t getting safety plans when they should have,” Petis said.

Quimby has yet to begin the survey component of the investigation, which was requested by the board. She said surveys to parents, faculty and staff will go out this week. Student surveys will likely go out March 20, though parents have the option to opt out before then.

“The more responses I get, the more valid the data I can analyze,” she said.

Quimby stressed the importance of not dragging out the investigation. She has a few remaining interviews and anticipates releasing a series of three reports. The report dealing with specific personnel matters may not be appropriate for public release, she noted.

“There is clearly room for improvement here,” Quimby told the board. “And there are very specific steps that can be taken to get there. You need to be proactive, and you need to lead the way instead of stepping back and waiting to see what anybody else is going to do. I would like to hope that my investigation has been a catalyst for you to be better and for you to lead the way and do some proactive changes that will make things better for the students in your school and the greater community.”

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.


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