The Sitka School Board on Tuesday addressed parent and community concerns about incidents of alleged sexual abuse on a school bus.
A Sitka grand jury last month indicted 18-year-old Sitka High School student Alexander Evans on multiple counts of sexual abuse of a minor, alleging that he had inappropriate contact with a 6-year-old girl multiple times aboard the bus.
At the school board’s regular meeting, Supt. Steve Bradshaw said school officials were notified of a problem on Feb. 10. Evans was arrested on Feb. 13. At the end of that week, the schools began notifying parents of students who were aboard the bus where the situation took place. Police interviewed many of those students with the permission of their parents.
On Feb. 24, a story about the incident appeared in the newspaper. Bradshaw sent a notice out to all school district parents on Feb. 28. Some school board members said they’d heard concerns from parents about the amount of time it took to send out widespread notification.
Nobody testified about those concerns in person at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. But in a letter, parent Rick Armstrong said he intended to testify but was ill and couldn’t make it in person. He expressed concern about high school students occasionally sharing a bus with younger children in order to arrive earlier at school for extracurricular activities.
School Board president Lon Garrison read from his letter.
“The district should not be setting up a system where older kids have to ride on younger children’s buses to access education that is available to others,” Armstrong’s letter read. “I also wanted to address my concern for not being notified sooner as a parent about the alleged school bus assault. I e-mailed the district as soon as I read about the events, and I appreciate the timely e-mails I received back as well as the letter explaining the situation. But I still think the timeliness of the response was too long, given the situation.”
Bradshaw said at no time after the high school student’s arrest did officials have concerns about student safety. He said he delayed making the story public because he didn’t want to harm the police investigation, but he also said he understands the parents’ concerns, and that ultimately, he’s responsible for the safety of district students.
“And so, for every parent that has had a concern, I truly, truly apologize,” Bradshaw said. “And to the parent of the young lady, I can think of nothing that would be more difficult, short of the death of a child. And I apologize for that, because I do not like to see that happen to anyone.”
Bradshaw acknowledged that a letter probably could have gone out before the story hit the news.
The board considered whether it would change the school district’s bus policy. Board members said they didn’t want to minimize the incident, but that they didn’t want to penalize other students who need access to earlier transportation.
Sitka High School Principal PJ Ford Slack said students in her building are told they should not ride the elementary school bus, and that prior to the incident she was unaware an earlier bus sometimes carried high school students. She also said that in many rural districts, it’s not uncommon for students of various ages to share transportation.
The board asked Bradshaw to make sure bus drivers are clear that they need to keep older and younger students separated. They also asked building principals to check buses when they arrive to ensure that the separation is happening.
Garrison, the board president, said the school board welcomes feedback from parents with further concerns.