Audit Update Letter

Audit Update Letter
Posted on 03/22/2021
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LKSD’S COMMITMENT TO PROTECTING STUDENTS – BEST PRACTICES SAFETY AUDIT UPDATE

FROM SUPERINTENDENT HANKINS

March 22, 2021

 Dear parents, students, and the entire LKSD learning community, as you may recall, last June LKSD became the first school district in Alaska to proactively engage an independent, outside expert to examine our existing policies, procedures, and training, and advise us on best practices for preventing sexual misconduct and abuse in schools. We took this voluntary step to help us strengthen our existing practices and responsive actions – particularly in light of our local and the national discussion around sexual misconduct in school settings.

 We hired Dr. Janet Barry, a former National School District Superintendent of the Year with more than 40 years of experience in public education, and an expert that understands the best practices for how schools can prevent sexual abuse against students to perform this comprehensive safety audit. Dr. Barry was tasked with reviewing whether our existing policies and procedures are working, what more we can do and make recommendations for how we could improve our practices for protecting children against sexual abuse in the schools. 

 Dr. Barry has now completed the first phase of her audit. She recently shared her baseline findings and recommendations with the School Board; they are available on our website. As you’ll see, Dr. Barry’s recommendations have provided us with further guidance on the following areas: 

  1. Policies and regulations – Adopting, maintaining, and updating key policies and regulations to protect students from child abuse and/or neglect, sexual harassment and sexual abuse, including the potential for sexual grooming and abuse by school district employees. Integral to strengthening policies is our continued integration of new board policy 5141.42, Professional Boundaries of Staff with Students, that former LKSD Superintendent Dan Walker and I initially brought forward for review in 2019. The policy was officially adopted by the Board in July 2020, and the Board’s review of the accompanying Administrative Regulations was adopted October 2020. LKSD is also responding to other audit recommendations that will add protections to current procedures, including the following:
    • Listing inappropriate boundary invasions in order to clarify prohibited behavior for all members of the school community. These inappropriate boundary invasions are part of our new board policy.
    • Identifying classified as well as certificated staff as mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse and training all staff accordingly. (This will exceed the statutory requirement in Alaska.)
    • Advocating for the same change in the Alaska Association of School Boards’ model policy for the state.
  2. Hiring, training and supervision – Highlighting additional measures to help us strengthen background checks and processes in the hiring process. This includes:
    • Expanding standard district background checks to examine local and social media reports and “red flag” departures from prior employment.
    • Strengthening background checks in the hiring process for classified staff, including a specific inquiry that asks past employers to share any relevant or concerning information about the applicant prior to placing the person in proximity to children. 
  3. K-12 curriculum – Teaching all students in age-appropriate, culturally appropriate contexts to know and make safe, informed choices that will help them recognize and avoid sexual abuse. This includes cataloging sexual abuse awareness curriculum that is appropriate for IEP students who receive Life Skills instruction.   
  4. Parent/student communications, including Advisory School Board link to local resources – Ensuring that parents and students have access to complaint procedures and resources as needed.
  5. Administrative response to situations – Preparing District and Site Administrators to respond quickly and effectively to reports of inappropriate boundary invasions or suspected child abuse by employees. 
  6. Fidelity of process – Ensuring an understanding of and commitment to process, led by the Superintendent with clear sponsorship by and accountability to the Board. 

Dr. Barry’s audit found that LKSD did well in areas such as curriculum on sexual abuse awareness and community resources. There were also areas where Dr. Barry has made recommendations for the school district to follow. The central idea behind Dr. Barry’s recommendations is to update policies, trainings, and practices so that our schools become more proactive in preventing abuse, in contrast to standard reliance on policies that react to emerging problems. The key ingredients to this are training educators in the importance of maintaining professional boundaries and in reporting situations which could possibly be grooming activities so that grooming can be prevented. 

 Moving forward, we believe that implementing Dr. Barry’s recommendations, which aim to prevent problems before they occur, will bolster our practices and move us to the forefront among U.S. public school districts striving for best practices in student safety.  We plan to share what we have learned with the Alaska Association of School Boards, so that all school districts in the State may have an opportunity to implement those recommendations as well. We want all schools and children in Alaska to benefit from what we have learned through this Best Practices Safety Audit.   

 Our work in these focus areas will continue throughout the 2020-21 school year and over the summer as we build upon our existing foundation and integrate our new policy into LKSD’s ongoing protections for students.  Details of the new policy can be found on the LKSD School Board page.  As we evaluate our work in this first cycle of best practice implementation, we will also plan for follow-up evaluation in 2021-22 and beyond.  

 It is important to understand that LKSD’S new proactive policy, BP 5141.42, is based on the best available research on how sexual grooming occurs. This research was not generally available to educators during the development of earlier policies – and this research is what makes our new policy a “best practice” for maintaining safe schools in the future. LKSD is one of the first school districts in Alaska to adopt this policy. Training under this policy informs ALL staff, students, volunteers, and community members of their important – and necessary – role in protecting children. It also sets forth expectations that exceed existing state standards for student protections. To that end, I’m proud to report that the majority of LKSD staff have already received training, and we are now ready to expand training to students, volunteers, parents and the community.   

 If you’d like to learn more about our new policy and our process for implementation, Dr. Barry will join me on Coffee with KYUK on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, to discuss her findings in greater detail. She will present her full report to the School Board in August 2021. 

 While it is rare than an educator abuses children, and it may be impossible to prevent every bad deed from happening, we are hopeful that the measures we are taking will go a long way towards protecting children in our schools, as well as Alaskan schools in general.  

 Please know that we take very seriously our responsibility to ensure the safety, health, and wellbeing of our students and those who work with them. More information about our commitment to safety and the additional resources we offer for identifying and preventing sexual misconduct and abuse are available on the Parent Resources section of the LKSD web site. 

 Together, we believe our District’s hard work, outreach for best practices, and continuing community conversations will help set a new standard for sexual abuse prevention in our own and all of Alaska’s schools. Thank you for your continued support. 

Sincerely,

 Kimberly Hankins

Superintendent

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