Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl is alleging that Spokane Public Schools officials have not reported “assaults and threats occurring to students and staff” to law enforcement.
Meidl outlined his concerns in a letter dated Friday to Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Adam Swinyard. In the letter, he cites the state law requiring school officials to report observed or credible instances of a child being abused or neglected to police. The statute does not specifically address student-on-student violence, but Meidl indicated he believes that kind of violence qualifies as abuse or neglect.
In a response Monday, however, not only did school district leaders deny the allegations, but they accused Spokane police officers of ignoring and criticizing staff members for making 911 calls in the past.
“There are SPS principals that have indicated they have called 911 and officers have not responded to their school. In addition, principals have shared that SPD officers have criticized staff for calling,” the letter reads. “How can we communicate and calibrate moving forward to address these perceptions?”
Meidl said he is unaware of any officers criticizing staff for calling police, though he is willing to investigate the issue.
State law establishes that professional school personnel are mandatory reporters who must make a report to law enforcement when they have “reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect.”
In his letter, Meidl outlined the parameters of several relevant state statutes, noting that the consequences for knowingly failing to report is a gross misdemeanor.
He did not mention any specific instances of school district staffers failing in their duties to report.
“After learning of these incidents, and reviewing dozens of police reports, it appears there is a pattern of assaults and threats occurring to students and staff that are not following reporting requirements as described in (state law),” Meidl wrote.
Responding to questions from The Spokesman-Review, Meidl said he was made aware late last year of increasing reports of student-on-student crimes of violence, whether they were on school property or when students were at, on the way to, or leaving school.
Around that same time, the police department received a report from a local news outlet that Spokane Public Schools had a policy encouraging school leaders to refrain from calling police when there was student violence in schools or on district grounds. From this same media outlet, the police department heard schools were “encouraging parents to deal with issues off school property and make the determination if police needed to be involved.”
Meidl wrote that the police department is willing to work with Spokane Public Schools to make sure district staff is following these requirements.
“The safety of our children is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, community concern(s) society holds,” he wrote. “These laws do not have carve outs or exceptions for philosophies that may be contrary to the clearly stated statutes.”
The school district’s response was signed by Swinyard, Spokane Public Schools Board of Education President Mike Wiser, School Board Vice President Nikki Lockwood, Spokane Principals Association President Paul Gannon and Spokane Education Association President Jeremy Shay. A district spokeswoman deferred a request for further comment to the police department. The district’s letter does not specifically address whether the district has a policy encouraging school leaders to refrain from calling police in response to student violence.
In the letter, district leaders requested a meeting with Meidl, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs and the city’s civil rights officer, Jerrall Haynes, the former school board chair, to address the allegations as well as discuss several points of concern – including the claims that SPD officers have ignored and criticized past 911 calls.
District leaders said they were unaware of any patterns of complaints from families or building staff related to failures to comply with mandatory reporting duties, according to the letter.
Likewise, unions representing district employees, the Spokane Education and Principals associations, have not communicated any concerns with the district’s approach to mandatory reporting. Union leadership “is a very common pathway” to anonymously report such concerns, district leaders said.
All school district staff must annually complete an online mandatory reporting course, district leaders said.
“We take any report of employee misconduct seriously and are committed to following up appropriately,” the district wrote. “We would like to discuss why your impressions are so different from ours.”
District leaders also questioned the timing of Meidl’s letter, as they are of the understanding that the police department has had concerns with the district’s mandatory reporting practices since the start of the school year.
The district also reportedly received media inquires “within hours” of receiving Meidl’s letter.
“Given your stated significant concern for student safety, why have you delayed in bringing this issue to our attention?” they wrote. “We are aware that you recently met with members of the district senior leadership and did not surface this issue. Typically, public entities initiate communication with senior leadership at the onset of such a serious concern.”
In a meeting “several months ago” with district staff, only one example was raised related to a non-response from SPD to a 911 call, Meidl claimed. In that instance, school district staff canceled the response while officers were en route, he said.
“This is the first I have heard regarding staff being told by SPD officers they should not have called for a law enforcement response,” Meidl said via email, “but I am happy to review body camera footage of interactions between SPD officers and SPS staff if more information is provided.”
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