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Mr. Castellanos, we still have some questions

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Posted: June 24, 2008 1:50 a.m.
Updated: August 25, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 

What are we to say? How best to respond to the Hart district's response?

For all of the verbosity and soundbite-readiness of Superintendent Jaime Castellanos' June 22 letter to the editor, we find no increased comfort in the face of what is happening in our local high schools: Educators taking sexual advantage of those whom they're supposed to shepherd.

Mr. Castellanos assured the reading public that the William S. Hart Union High School District uses "very stringent" hiring procedures to guarantee children aren't under the tutelage of sex offenders.

The district even checks for tuberculosis, he stressed in his letter. Surely every parent across the valley must be relieved to know that if his or her child's teacher is a pervert, at least that teacher is TB-free.

We commend the district for taking steps to bring its staff together in the coming months and address issues of inappropriate educator/student relationships. It is beyond necessary.

But what does Mr. Castellanos have to say about Kevin Thomas, who is in jail for allegedly being sexually involved with students at a San Fernando Valley high school?

Readers may recall that 40-year-old Mr. Thomas, in addition to being a volunteer football coach at Canyon High School, was also allegedly giving lessons to several girls on the Canyon basketball team.

Did Thomas have to undergo any background checks?

Apparently not.

According to Rochelle Neal, the Hart district's assistant superintendent of human resources and student services, "(Thomas) was not authorized to use the facility. ... He is close friends with the Canyon girls basketball coach."

He wasn't authorized to be there. But he was. On whose watch?

During that same June 18 interview, Neal said, "It sounds like (Thomas) appeared on our campus in January or February."

He "appeared"? Who is this man? Casper the a-bit-too-friendly ghost?

Mr. Castellanos, where were your stringent background checks when Mr. Thomas "appeared" on campus? Was his friend's thumbs-up enough to bypass formalities?

Santa Clarita parents, if you're not fired up by this point, you should be.

In his letter, Mr. Castellanos wrote: "While The Signal might wish to become privy to detailed accounts of possible misconduct, confidentiality laws clearly prohibit the district from publicly disclosing that information. Doing so would not help law enforcement in its fact-finding, and could possibly jeopardize the investigation."

We agree that disclosure of too much too soon can indeed jeopardize investigation, but this is not the time nor place for the superintendent of the high school district to hide behind the security of confidentiality laws, dodging the issue at hand.

Confidentiality laws have not stopped the rumor mill from working overtime in these recent weeks, as several educators have come under scrutiny for the nature of their relationships with students.

But what is the district doing to allay the concerns of parents?

Perhaps Mr. Castellanos should schedule a series of town hall meetings, embrace the concept of transparency and find out what the parents want done.

Parents, are you content withe assurances that an unnamed person who worked for a school district has "resigned" or been fired for "inappropriate contact" with a student, all while rumors fly back and forth among parents and students?

Are you content being given a "Relax, we're handling it" attitude?

And as it relates to Mr. Thomas, are you secure knowing that a volunteer can slip onto campus, past the safeguards of background checks and tuberculosis tests?

It is time to ask - nay, demand - more of those in charge of our schools.

It is our responsibility as a newspaper - servants of the public interest - to ask questions, whether or not we get answers.

It is your responsibility as a parent to require more of those who are in leadership - more than vague assurances that someone's minding the store and all's right in the schoolhouse. And it is incumbent on you as parents to talk about these issues with your children.

It's time for the rumor mill to grind to a halt in favor of discussion, action and responsibility.

This is about our children.

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