October 15, 2011 in Washington Voices

U-Hi student alleges Cronin touched her

District says it hasn’t received any reports of inappropriate behavior since 2009
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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A University High School student said she complained to the school’s principal and assistant principal last spring that teacher Michael Cronin had touched her inappropriately.

An official at the Central Valley School District, however, said there is no record that such a complaint was forwarded by the school.

Cronin is on paid administrative leave while Central Valley School District officials investigate his recent criminal convictions on charges related to driving under the influence. In 2009, he was on paid administrative leave for several months while the district investigated allegations that he inappropriately touched a female student and a female staff member while drunk at school. The district issued Cronin a letter of reprimand for his actions.

School district officials said recently that the district had not received any complaints against Cronin since 2009.

The student, who does not wish to be publicly identified, said she and her mother met with U-Hi Principal Daryl Hart and Assistant Principal Sherry Clark in March or April. The student said this week she told school officials that Cronin had rubbed his feet against hers while she sat at her desk in his class; that he “would always come up and stand behind my chair and talk to me” so that his crotch was by her face; and that he would sometimes rub her back and her arm “up and down.”

The student said those actions made her “really uncomfortable.”

The student’s mother, who didn’t want her name used because it could identify her daughter, said the teenager didn’t want to go to Cronin’s class. “She said she felt dirty and embarrassed by it. It was difficult for her.”

The incident that prompted the girl’s mother to complain to school officials occurred in the spring, after her daughter was no longer in Cronin’s class. Cronin chased the girl down a hallway demanding to know why she wasn’t speaking to him, the student said. “That is bizarre behavior,” the mother said. “I went in to the school the next morning.”

Said the student, “It felt like he thought we were in a relationship or something. It was really weird.”

Hart, the principal, and Cronin didn’t return calls seeking comment.

School district spokeswoman Melanie Rose said she couldn’t comment on the allegations because it’s a personnel issue, but said, “We do take these new allegations very seriously. We’ve opened a formal investigation.”

Ray Rowell, assistant superintendent in the Central Valley School District, said the district hadn’t received a report of a complaint.

“If we had any complaint forms, it would have been part of the file,” he said. “We heard nothing about this.”

Rose would not confirm that the student met with the principal. She noted that principals have discretion in whether to report complaints to the district, depending on their severity.

The girl’s mother said that after their meeting with the U-Hi administrators, she received a call from the school telling her that Cronin had denied any improper behavior. “They said that they took care of it by speaking with him,” the mother said. “(Cronin) said it was a misunderstanding.”

She said she believes the district has been irresponsible in its handling of complaints against Cronin.

“Why is he teaching in that school district?” she said. “I am so disappointed in the school district.”

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