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D.C. activist seeks school probe, ends up as target

Reported ‘offending child’ to officials

If you see something, say something.

That's what Ward 7 activist Geraldine Washington said she was doing when she alerted D.C. Public Schools officials to what she thought was the inappropriate touching of a child by another child.

But before long, she found herself surrounded by Metropolitan Police Department officers and served with a notice barring her from entering Randle Highlands Elementary School in Southeast, where her nephew is in first grade.

When she protested, Robert Utiger, general counsel of D.C. Public Schools, said her conduct justified barring her from the school grounds.

On Nov. 18, Ms. Washington wrote to interim Principal Tracy Foster that a first-grader who is a classmate of her nephew approached her that day and volunteered that another student had touched his "private parts," according to emails obtained by The Washington Times.

"This is the third incident I am aware of as this same child 'touched the private area' of another classmate last year," she wrote. "It leaves me wondering whether lawful and appropriate action, follow-up and counseling has been afforded this child. How many other children may be exposed to his molestation?"

Ms. Washington's email further states that the law requires all assaults and inappropriate sexual behavior to be reported immediately to the proper authorities, and concludes, "Particularly in light of Penn State, I am once again alerting you and others to the knowledge I have acquired regarding this same student's actions."

Ms. Foster responded in an email that day that she had personally investigated the incident, which first came to the school's attention in October, and spoke with the students' parents, neither of whom "elected to involve the law enforcement authorities." She urged Ms. Washington to report any further incidents immediately and told her she had the right to contact authorities if she chose.

Not satisfied with this response, Ms. Washington emailed Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson the next day, saying she was "deeply troubled" by what she considered to be a dismissive response by Ms. Foster.

"I am inquiring about the role and mandatory obligation of school officials to report and follow through on cases of child sexual abuse," she wrote, according to the emails.

Ms. Washington also explained in her email to Ms. Henderson and Chief Lanier that she received similar reports the previous year from the mother of one of her nephew's fellow kindergartners and that she became alarmed after finding out that the "offending child" was still seated next to the student whose mother had informed her of a purported touching. She said she was further alarmed to hear that the school had not immediately informed the mother of the student who was said to have been touched.

Swift response

A member of Ms. Henderson's staff responded swiftly with information about the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency hotline and the training all "mandated reporters" undergo, and Ms. Washington reiterated her concerns about what may have caused the "offending child" to act out in such a manner.

A police department lieutenant emailed Ms. Washington a few days later saying she had assigned a detective to investigate the most recent matter.

The emails indicate that, at that point, Ms. Washington considered the matter under proper review. For good measure, she completed the family services agency's neglect-and-abuse online training and spoke with a hotline representative about what occurred.

When she took her nephew to school on Dec. 6, she said, police officers served her with a "barring notice" saying she had improperly "interviewed a first-grade student" and initiated an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct without immediately contacting the principal, pursued the claim with law enforcement "without just cause," misconstrued facts in the student's report to her and confronted the parent of the purported victim, "causing a verbal confrontation on school property."

The notice said she could be subject to "arrest and prosecution for unlawful entry" if she came onto school property.

In an email to The Times, Ms. Washington said she never spoke to any parents after the incident and that although she did not email the principal until later in the day, she had notified the first-grade teacher of the student's claim as soon as she "had the teacher's ear alone." She denied "interviewing" her nephew's schoolmate.

She asked school officials to review a security tape of the day in question, according to the emails.

Upon receipt of the notice barring her from her nephew's school, Ms. Washington sent an email to various D.C. officials, including the full D.C. Council, Ms. Henderson and other school officials and lawyers. In the emails, she asked that the barring notice be lifted and said her nephew was "visibly shaken" by the police presence, as he thought she was under arrest.

About four hours later, Mr. Utiger, the school system's general counsel, wrote in an email to Ms. Washington that he had reviewed the matter and been briefed on her conduct. "I believe your conduct as reported, and your intemperate emails, fully justified barring you from the school, particularly since you do not appear to be the legal guardian of any child attending the school. Finally, I do not intend to respond further to your emails," he wrote.

Later that night, Chief of Schools John Davis offered to get involved if the mother of Ms. Washington's nephew wished to contact his office.

On Dec. 12, Aprille Washington wrote in an email to Mr. Davis that as a single parent, her sister, Ms. Washington, was an integral part of her son's life since his father died when he was 2 years old. She said, "If this bar notice remains in effect, I will be forced to take leave from my job, because I have no one else to ensure my child gets to school and transitions well in the morning."

Parent conference

Public schools spokesman Hassan Charles said school officials had contacted the Child and Family Services Agency as required by law and received advice about how to handle the matter, which led to the parent conference conducted by Ms. Foster. He said the school system issues "less than two dozen" barring notices per year, and that it takes Ms. Washington's concerns seriously.

Mr. Charles said the school system also takes seriously any concerns parents raise about other parents or caregivers. He said the school system acted appropriately under the circumstances and in the best interests of the students at Randle Highlands.

Emails obtained by The Times show that the parents of the students involved had asked Ms. Henderson to bar Ms. Washington.

In one email, the mother of the boy who is said to have touched another boy accused Ms. Washington of targeting her son with false allegations. The other parent — who court records suggest lives in Maryland - sent an email to Ms. Henderson accusing Ms. Washington of "bribing" her son with candy and "interrogating him before the school day started."

An email from Ms. Henderson to Mr. Davis and Instructional Superintendent Clara Canty on Dec. 2 asked, "Can we bar Washington on the grounds of the parent request since we know the accusation is true?"

Ms. Canty replied, "That was already our plan (not based on parent request, but based on her inappropriate actions — we were actually waiting on her to take it too far.)"

Neither the school officials nor the parents of the boy who is said to have been touched responded to emails from The Times seeking comment. The mother of the purported "offending child" returned an email with a phone call in which she angrily declined to discuss the matter.

In an email Wednesday, Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said the department's youth division investigated and determined that the touching allegations were "unfounded." She directed further inquiries to D.C. Public Schools.

But the matter has caught the attention of D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, who in an email to Ms. Washington last month, obtained by The Times, said he had asked that the barring notice be revoked, although the request had been refused.

"I have met with the chancellor, and she's looking into the entire situation further," he wrote.

Mr. Mendelson told The Times recently that he is not satisfied with the status of the matter and continues to seek answers, but he was not prepared to publicly address it.

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