FBI looking into claims that Spokane Public Schools staff members have failed to report violence, crimes to police
March 16, 2022 Updated Fri., March 18, 2022 at 10:29 a.m.
The FBI, in conjunction with the Spokane Police Department, is seeking more information from Spokane Public Schools community members about concerns that school officials are not reporting crimes to police occurring in schools as required of them by law.
The FBI’s involvement follows Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl sending a letter Friday to Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Adam Swinyard accusing SPS staff members of not reporting “assaults and threats occurring to students and staff.”
Swinyard and other district leaders denied the allegations in a response sent Monday, calling for a meeting with Meidl, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and other city officials to address the allegations along with their own concerns with Meidl’s conduct.
Christian Parker, the FBI’s supervisory special agent in Spokane, referenced Meidl’s concerns in an email he sent Tuesday to principals represented by the Spokane Principals Association.
In the email, Parker said the FBI also received allegations of criminal activity occurring in Spokane schools, including “assaults, sexual assaults, threats of violence and drug use.”
Concerns, he said, also exist over whether Spokane Public Schools staff members are “being permitted to exercise their professional judgment and comply with their mandatory reporting obligations” as they determine whether to contact law enforcement about potential crimes and safety concerns.
Those concerns align with reports Meidl said he received from a local news outlet, which he did not identify, that SPS staff members have been told to refrain from contacting law enforcement when there was student violence in schools or on school grounds.
“I have already spoken with several people on this list,” Parker wrote in his email to school principals, “but if you have been instructed by SPS officials or pressured by SPS officials not to contact or cooperate with law enforcement when a crime occurs at your school or if you have other information that may bear on these concerns, you are more than welcome to contact me.”
State law establishes school employees as mandatory reporters of observed or credible instances of a child being abused or neglected. Knowingly failing to report is a misdemeanor.
In a response to inquiries about the FBI’s involvement, SPS spokesperson Sandra Jarrard said district leadership is of the understanding and interpretation from SPS legal counsel that they are interpreting mandatory reporting requirements correctly.
“We are unsure as to why law enforcement has been conducting an investigation rather than contacting us proactively to address their concerns and provide us guidance,” Jarrard said. “It is our understanding that not all student misconduct that occurs in a school setting is required to be reported as a crime.”
Parker confirmed in a statement that the FBI sent an email to Spokane Public Schools administration but could not comment further on that. As a matter of policy, the FBI does not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
The agency is encouraging students, family members of students, and/or staff members who have been a victim of a crime that was not reported to law enforcement or have any related information to contact the agency through email@example.com using the subject line “Spokane Schools.”
Anyone with information about criminal conduct in Spokane schools also is encouraged to contact the agency whether or not they are the victim of a crime. Anonymous tips can be submitted through tips.fbi.gov.
District leaders are accusing the Spokane Police Department and FBI of working together for months in seeking evidence that district employees have not been following mandatory reporting requirements.
In her statement Wednesday, Jarrard said district leadership has not received an explanation as to why law enforcement did not reach out to the district sooner.
“We welcome any inquiries on our practices as our 5,000 employees have been working tirelessly to serve students and ensure their safety over the last two years,” Jarrard said. “These allegations are creating a significant level of disruption and concern for our staff.”
SPS officials overhauled the district’s school safety practices in 2020 with early intervention in mind.
While SPS has long used an unarmed security force, district leaders that year made the switch from school resource officers with limited police commissions to campus safety specialists. Those limited commissions, granted by the Spokane Police Department, granted school resource officers powers including arrest authority and access to police radio.
Campus safety specialists are tasked with connecting students with social services and other resources before problems become critical based on the Salem-Keizer Threat Assessment System.
“We want to change the behavior through a process where we meet the needs of a student, so they meet our expectations, rather than punish them,” Chief Operations Officer Shawn Jordan said in January.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.