EDITORIAL: DO TELL — Cherry Creek schools was wrong not to tell parents, public about sexually assaulted student


AURORA | In the sordid and thorny world of teachers and other school staffers sexually assaulting students, there is no prescribed right way to handle such complicated ugliness.

But there is certainly a wrong way, and Cherry Creek Schools mishandled the case of a school security guard sexually assaulting a student — the district didn’t disclose the crime to the public.

The case of a student being lured and assaulted by Broderick Jerrod Lundie, 29, came to light last week only because it was rooted out after a separate spate of sex accusations at Prairie Middle School was made public by police and school officials.

After being outed on social media, school officials had to admit they knew about but did not disclose information about the assault at Grandview High School in May.

In an ardent letter to parents, staff and students, Cherry Creek Schools Superintendent Harry Bull said he chose not to reveal the Grandview sex assault because he was convinced there were no other victims and that making the assault public might only create more pain for the victim — even though the student’s identity would not have been disclosed.

The flawed decision unleashed several layers of wrong and damage everywhere.

Most important, it sent a message to the victim and others who knew about the case that there is shame in being the victim of sex assault, so much so that it’s best to keep the matter quiet. Experts have long pushed away from Bull’s outdated approach. The abhorrent cases involving Tailhook, Bill Cosby, Kobe Bryant, President Donald Trump and, most recently, victim Taylor Swift all underscore the importance of compelling victims to report their abuse, and ensure they and the public understand victims are not responsible for their attacks, nor should they be ashamed to report them.

Teaching children to protect themselves from abuse depends on ensuring that they tell when they’re approached or abused. That means being honest and forthright in telling the public, just like we expect victims to tell authorities.

Just as important, Bull has inadvertently harmed the school district’s credibility with staff, students and parents. Being outed, the incident begs the question of what else hasn’t Cherry Creek officials told parents that’s going on in its schools? The response to that question is muddied. Lack of clarity has prompted the Aurora Sentinel to use open records laws to try and piece together other possible incidents not reported.

The most obvious lesson here is that secrecy doesn’t work. These incidents often leak out, even if they don’t attract media attention.

Clearly overlooked by Bull — and those who agree with his notion about keeping sex assaults private in some cases — is that parents want to know, need to know, and deserve to know when incidents like this happen at their children’s schools.

To ensure Cherry Creek or other school districts don’t succumb to the folly of “better to keep these things quiet,” state lawmakers should enact legislation compelling districts to make reports of sex assaults by school staffers public. Legislators could exempt cases where police believe that revealing any information would inadvertently identify victims or sully an investigation.

To prevent complications with teacher unions, justifiably concerned about teacher rights regarding all other accusations, the measure should address only allegations regarding sexual assault. While there are numerous reasons to include other crimes committed by teachers and worthy of notifying parents, accusations of sexual abuse, especially against children, are uniquely alarming.

Parents yield unparalleled control of their children to schools, and they must have complete faith built on trust. Withholding information about teachers and employees sexually assaulting students undermines that trust and ultimately causes far more harm than any perceived good. Cherry Creek schools needs to publicly end the practice and reveal any similar cases in the district.