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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Police: District followed state law

After meeting with Spokane School District officials, police Chief Roger Bragdon said Friday that the district followed state law in reporting allegations that a Ferris High School teacher had a sexual relationship with a student last school year.

However, the head of the state attorney general’s office in Spokane said Friday that a school district has an overriding duty to report such allegations to authorities within 48 hours when it has reasonable cause to believe a child has been abused.

“You commit a crime if you don’t,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Larry Briney said.

The school district reported the teacher four days after opening an investigation.

Bragdon cited what he sees as conflicting state laws – one that mandates that a report of sexual abuse be made within 48 hours and another that school administrators contact all parties involved in determining reasonable cause.

“District 81 took all appropriate steps to protect the school environment and the victim in this case and is cooperating closely with our investigators,” Bragdon said. “The department’s current criminal investigation has not been compromised and is continuing.”

The school district waited until Jan. 28, four days after interviewing the student who was allegedly involved, before reporting the allegations against Ferris teacher Sayeed X to the state. The teacher is accused of having sex with the underage girl in the high school, and the district has notes written by X to the student implying the existence of a sexual relationship between them.

“I get up in the morning, and I breathe love. I can smell love. I can feel it every day,” one of the notes reads.

On Thursday, a CPS spokeswoman in Olympia told The Spokesman-Review that the district’s referral was made Jan. 31. Cathy Spears called the newspaper Friday to correct this “miscommunication” between the Spokane field office and CPS headquarters in Olympia.

“We did receive the referral on the 28th of January and faxed it on the 31st,” Spears said. “It was an honest mistake, and we certainly apologize.”

On Feb. 1, she said, Spokane police informed CPS that it had received the referral.

In defending the school district, Bragdon said Friday that he has to take everything into account when trying to establish whether there is reasonable cause to believe abuse has occurred, including interviewing all parties involved.

“If you have to do that in 48 hours, you’re not going to do a very good job,” the chief said. “Would it be right to take the single word of a high school person? In a school setting, it’s not unusual to have false allegations.”

He credited the district with sending the teacher home, which he called “good policy.” The chief said the incident in question happened a year ago, and as far as reporting is concerned, “We’re talking about a matter of a couple of days here.”

The victim was not threatened, and the suspect did not try to run away, Bragdon said, adding that the detective in the case said the investigation had not been compromised and was on “solid ground.”

Had the district called earlier, Bragdon said, “I don’t think it would have made much difference.”

Briney, of the attorney general’s office, believes the Legislature, in writing RCW 26.44.030 – which gives the 48-hour deadline – clearly intended for school district officials to err on the side of reporting, even if it did not have enough time to do full reporting.

In the more recent section of the law cited by the district and Bragdon, RCW 28A.400.317, “There may be other things that they need to do, but they still need to make the report,” Briney said. “You don’t need to do a law-enforcement type of investigation to have reasonable cause to believe.”

He said a child giving administrators “specific enough facts alone” would be sufficient to prompt a report to authorities.

“Let’s put it this way,” said Briney, who has 18 years of experience prosecuting sex crimes. “If the school district were to call me up, I would tell them they would have to report. What if everybody they have to interview is the entire junior class? It’s unreasonable to think they would have to interview everybody before reporting.”

Past and current law enforcement officers familiar with sex-crime investigation said that an investigation could be compromised if school district officials interviewed the suspect.

School district community relations director Terren Roloff repeated Friday that no such interview took place. On Thursday, Deputy Chief Al Odenthal told the newspaper he believed there had been an interview.

Roloff said Friday that “Spokane Public Schools is pleased that its handling of the case involving Sayeed X is now being accurately portrayed.”

“The school district pursues any suggestion of inappropriate misconduct with fervor and adherence to the law. We appreciate the efforts of Chief Bragdon and the Spokane Police Department, along with Child Protective Services, to confirm that we handled this matter properly.”

The police have yet to interview X, who resigned his position with the school district and will receive his salary until his contract expires Aug. 31.

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