A DC Council member is calling for changes to oversight at Duke Ellington School of the Arts just days after a News4 I-Team investigation raised questions about how the school, school district and community police dealt with sexual abuse complaints against the same teacher years apart.
Brooke Pinto, a council member for Ward 2, whose district is home to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, sent a letter to the office of the state superintendent of education and the chancellor of DC public schools, calling the treatment of allegations of sexual abuse of “extraordinarily disturbing”. .”
Pinto said “attention must be paid to systemic failures” and that changes must be made to ensure investigations of this nature are handled properly and documented with detailed records.
“Allowing our students to be exposed to this type of behavior and not have a thorough investigation, follow-up and accountability was so disturbing and disturbing, and I knew there was more to do,” said Pinto at the I-Team in an interview on Tuesday.
She said hearing the two young women say they were groomed by their writing teacher, Mark Williams, for sex nine years apart was hard enough. But additional questions about how the school’s unique relationship with the school district may have helped Williams avoid scrutiny made a bad situation even worse.
“I want to honor that independence because it’s such a unique place,” Pinto said. “But there need to be safeguards in place so that when something like this happens, there is an objective third party to be involved in monitoring, investigating and making sure our children are safe. “
In the letter, co-signed by Ward 2 State Board of Education member Allister Chang, Pinto calls for a formal review of the school’s board structure and the addition of an objective person who is a qualified Title IX expert. The school is currently governed by its own board and not by DCPS, despite being a public school.
“There have been system failures at all levels, which is part of the reason why one of the requests we have made is to maintain a centralized system through DCPS of all personnel records and to ensure that there is up-to-date record keeping for these types of allegations and complaints,” Pinto says.
A school spokesperson told I-Team that both cases had been reported to DCPS for investigation, but DCPS told I-Team it had no record of an investigation. on the allegations.
Because Williams was an employee of the school and not of the school district, DCPS did not have a personnel file for him. The school also acknowledged record-keeping failures before launching a new system in 2017.
“This is unacceptable. This is absolutely unacceptable which is why we have sent this letter to OSSE as it requires leadership and oversight above DCPS to ensure record keeping is maintained. “Pinto said.
OSSE told I-Team it has no records on Williams because teachers at Duke Ellington are not required to be licensed. Williams taught there for 18 years before stepping down in 2019 amid investigation. He did not return repeated calls and emails from the I-Team seeking comment.
Pinto also forwarded her letter to the DC mayor, chief of police, and the new commander of the Division of Youth and Family Services, who is now reviewing both cases, as the two women told the I -Team that they had never been formally interviewed by school district investigators or police at the time their cases were reported. Williams was never charged.
“We will be following this investigation closely using both our oversight responsibilities in the Judiciary Committee and working with the MPD (Metropolitan Police Department) to see if they follow through on what they say they will.” , Pinto said.
Pinto said she hopes her letter will lead to a larger conversation about how these types of cases are handled at Duke Ellington and other schools.
A Duke Ellington spokesperson said the school welcomes ideas to improve the protection of its students and better record keeping and said the school is willing to allow all personnel records to be shared with DCPS.
OSSE did not respond to the I-Team’s request for comment.
“We hope OSSE responds seriously and diligently, and we will continue the discussion,” Pinto said. “And if legislative solutions are needed to keep our children safe, then that is absolutely something we will consider and pursue.”
Statement from Duke Ellington:
“Duke Ellington thanked Council Member Pinto and Ward School Board Member 2 Chang for their interest in how we can make improvements that increase the safety and well-being of our children, and shared our interest in discussing their ideas. DESAP’s Board of Directors often includes board members with extensive Title IX experience, and we are willing to ensure that Title IX experience is a skill set represented by new board members. We also welcome suggestions regarding record keeping, as Ellington overhauled employee record keeping immediately following the 2018 allegations referenced in the NBC4 report. We are very open to recommendations for continuous improvements, including allowing all of our personal records to be shared with DCPS for retention.
“DC Public Schools is committed to the safety and well-being of every student. We support our students who raise concerns and recognize the courage and strength it takes for those affected to speak up and share their stories.
“In 2020, DCPS asked Duke Ellington School of the Arts to implement several protocols to strengthen the culture of preventing and reporting allegations of sexual misconduct. This included partnering with the DC Rape Crisis Center to conduct trainings for staff and students, creating a committee to raise student voices, and conducting quarterly empathy interviews with students and families about school culture. DCPS will continue to monitor these protocols carefully.
“As a district, DCPS has strong measures in place to prevent sexual misconduct with required background checks for all employees, mandatory staff trainings, and implementation of a strict reporting protocol to the MPD and to CASA when we become aware of incidents or allegations.“
Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and filmed and edited by Jeff Piper.