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At the Sept. 9 School Board meeting, District 202 Board Member Jonathan Baum questioned whether the Board had fulfilled its promise to the public and completed a full investigation of the gym wing locker thefts that were captured on students’ smart phones last year.
Mr. Baum’s comments followed a report from Principal Marcus Campbell on student focus groups scheduled for May 24 and 26 as part of the internal investigation into the thefts. Only one student attended any of the four sessions held at the school. “Because only one student participated during the scheduled focus group times, there are no results to present,” said the Principal’s report presented to the Board. “Swift action the administration took seemed to satisfy concerns,” said Mr. Campbell.
“We said we could do the investigation ourselves, that Marcus Campbell would report back findings, and that the report would focus on what we’d learned,” said Mr. Baum referencing a May 23 memo from Board President Pat Savage-Williams. “Apart from unsuccessful focus groups, I don’t think we’ve done the investigation. We did not give the public the report we said we’d give them.”
“We didn’t have anyone to talk to, no way to get to more data,” said Mr. Campbell. “Seniors graduated; there was no way to get at data. We had an online concern box and there wasn’t a lot of data there either. We tried multiple ways to get at information and there didn’t seem to be a lot of interest,” he said.
Some concerns raised “were from the 80s, from 2005,” said Superintendent Dr. Eric Witherspoon. “Since then we’ve had four Directors of Safety. We took a composite of the concerns being raised and we changed protocols, completely retooled the system. To suggest we didn’t listen is unfair.”
Board Member Gretchen Livingston said she was also “surprised and disappointed” that there wasn’t more of a follow-up report. “Did we talk to staff? Have we examined how similar schools handled similar issues? Those are the kinds of things I’d like to see in a report about an internal investigation.”
“I think we did set out a rather broad mandate,” said Board Member Doug Holt. “Good steps have been taken, but my main focus is do we understand as an institution what happened, did we fix that?”
“We did a very thorough internal investigation that took days and days and included countless interviews with students and staff. We wouldn’t have been able to take the actions we did without it,” said Dr. Witherspoon. “We responded with a complete systemic change in the locker room. Marcus welcomed more input and he didn’t get it. I would hate to divert staff time on things that happened years ago; we have a school to run. If our changes are working, we’ll see that. If not, we’ll see that and determine what more we need to do.” Dr. Witherspoon also mentioned a possible survey in physical education classes to get feedback after a semester. “We are not ignoring the past; but how much time do we want to devote to this? We need to move forward.”