Working through their pain and outrage, deriving from a “betrayal of trust” by two former employees from their 143-person professional staff, the school board and staff of the Palisades School District are working with their constituents toward establishing pro-active measures against future occurrence.
The effort features improving practices, procedures, and policies already in place to see what else might be done to protect the community from employing child predators; improve reporting of abuse; and strengthen policy to add clarifying “professional adult/student boundaries.”
School Board President Robert Musantry read a prepared statement on the matter at the Jan. 15 public board meeting, following publicity about the two perpetrators, as police news deigned to help locate any additional victims. He said his complete statement would be posted on the district website. Discussion had already begun in the community, as an online group and otherwise.
Musantry detailed the comprehensive hiring practices that are already in place, and recognizing that “there are always opportunities to improve our practices,” he had directed “Dr. O’Connell to review additional screening tools that are used to identify a child predator through the interview process and report her findings back to the board.” Bridget O’Connell is the district superintendent.
Musantry went on to consider “what we have in place by way of training and reporting of suspicious behavior,” which features a “low threshold of reporting” to three separate authorities for investigation and action. In addition to beginning new levels of training, starting with a Jan. 23 session presented by the county’s Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), for staff, parents, and caregivers, he called for consideration by the board, through policy committee meetings that are open to the public, of a new policy “titled maintaining professional adult/student boundaries.”
He concluded by thanking the Pennsylvania State Police Dublin Barracks, which has an office at the high school, and the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office, for their work to date on the matter; commended “those that brought forth the allegations of misconduct;” and expressed admiration for “the amazing courage of the victims.”
During the public comment period at the end of the Jan. 15 meeting, one parent asked if “culture problems” may have contributed to the matter, while another felt the present culture functioned as support for students coming forward, which did not happen at another school district that had employed one of the perpetrators. Among other comments, a parent stated that “parents are the first and last line of defense.”
Also at the Jan. 15 meeting, Dr. O’Connell thanked “Mrs. Deb Christman for her work in advocating for legislation to prohibit the sale of vaping products to minors in the state.” Christman was noted as the “go to person” on the matter as a member of the Palisades Partners in Action for Community Togetherness (PACT), which was formed to promote positive youth development and to minimize risk-taking behavior.
Board Treasurer David Haubert reported on an article in the Aug. 19, 2019 Morning Call stating that Palisades had one of the lowest equalized mills in the entire state, which is understood to translate to one of the lowest tax burdens.