HEBER — Several concerned parents gathered in front of Dogwood Elementary School on Wednesday morning to protest the school district’s handling of an investigation of a school employee accused of inappropriate behavior with a student.
Concerned parents could be seen holding signs, gathering petition signatures and handing out flyers alerting parents of the ongoing matter. The petition was specifically asking for Heber School District officials to prohibit the employee in question from being on campus during hours when children are present.
District officials had previously stated that the employee’s schedule was modified to avoid any contact with children. Parents dispute this, claiming that the individual can still be found on campus at hours when children are present.
Law enforcement authorities and district officials had declined to comment on the alleged incident, citing their respective ongoing investigations. Neither the identity of the student nor the employee have not been disclosed.
Dogwood Elementary School Principal Dawn Ponce also declined to comment on the investigation, citing the privacy surrounding personnel matters. Nor did Ponce address the protesting parents, stating only that as long as the parents stayed off school property they had the right to complain.
A couple of sheriff’s deputies were on hand to ensure protesters did not obstruct traffic to and from school shortly after the protest began.
Having first gotten wind of the incident through word of mouth several days after it was alleged to have occurred, parent John Kierepka said he became upset. He also was critical of the school board’s decision to not alert parents of the alleged incident and the subsequent investigation.
“They hushed it,” Kierepka said, as he stood in front of the elementary school holding a sign that said “Keep our children safe.”
“If you’re accused of something of that nature, you shouldn’t be around until found innocent,” Kierepka said.
Along with a few dozen other parents, Claudia Cota had attended a recent school board meeting where trustees declined to speak about the alleged incident and investigation despite being pressed by those gathered.
With rumors swirling about the possibility of other alleged victims, Cota said she felt the district’s silence is a disservice.
“They should at least notify the parents,” Cota said. “Maybe not give all the details but clarify what’s going on.”
About 500 fliers were distributed to parents Wednesday morning alerting them of the alleged incident.
The Sheriff’s Office was first notified of the alleged incident Oct. 23, Lt. Scott Sheppeard said.
According to one parent who accompanied the mother and the alleged victim to report the incident to the authorities, an interview and examination of the child was subsequently conducted by Child Protective Services.
The alleged victim’s mother was told about the difficulties involved with corroborating the victim’s account because of her young age and the tendency for children to not be able to fully articulate themselves, according to the parent who asked not to be identified. However, authorities did note some psychological trauma, she said.
One protest organizer said the next step would be to contact the 50 or so parents who signed the petition to determine their next move.
Protest organizers are considering asking parents in support of their efforts to keep their children from attending school as a way to force the district to remove the employee from campus during school hours.
Isabel Kierepka said she “knows for certain” that the behavior the employee had engaged in the past “made little girls uncomfortable.”
“I really do believe the accusations,” Isabel said.
Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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