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Classroom abuse
caption: Kevin Amos addresses Seattle Public Schools leadership about teacher misconduct issues during a public meeting on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at Garfield High School in Seattle.
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Kevin Amos addresses Seattle Public Schools leadership about teacher misconduct issues during a public meeting on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at Garfield High School in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Angry, tearful Seattle parents demand change amid teacher abuse revelations

Seattle Public Schools on Thursday hosted its first open forum since an ongoing KUOW investigation uncovered 10 cases in which the district failed to remove abusive teachers from the school setting.

Approximately 40 parents, students, and community members testified before Seattle school officials during a "listen and learn" meeting held in Garfield High School's Quincy Jones Performing Arts Center.

One parent, Lilly Frank, said her daughter had been abused by James Johnson, a math teacher with a known history of physically assaulting and sexually harassing students, when he taught at Meany Middle School.

"My daughter was offered no counseling services. I kept her from the classroom for a couple days until she felt ready to go back and nothing was done — nothing," Frank said.

She added that "there was about 45 emails that [parents] wrote to the school board," but that they "got nothing" when they raised concerns about staff misconduct at the school.

READ: Ear-pulling. Neck-grabbing. A Seattle first-grade teacher under investigation and still in the classroom

Others called for changes to the leadership structure within the the district.

"We pay enough taxes and Seattle Public Schools gets enough money," Kevin Amos said. "Your problem is you're top-heavy — you've got too many administrators."

The event centered on revelations that Johnson had been allowed to remain in the classroom with the aid of several district administrators. Parents also questioned the absence of Katrina Hunt, the principal of Washington Middle School who welcomed Johnson into the school, despite his history.

READ: Seattle teacher abuse: What two school principals knew

Although the insights varied, a common theme was clear: families are demanding accountability and urgent change from Seattle Public Schools.

Upwards of 100 attendees watched and cheered on as frustrated families — and even some district staff — addressed Superintendent Denise Juneau, Chief Human Resources Officer Clover Codd, and Seattle School Board Directors Brandon Hersey and Zachary DeWolf.

caption: Sharae Miller, a 9th-grade student at Garfield high school holds a sign showing support for ethnic studies programs at a public meeting to address concerns about abusive teachers on Thursday, February 13, 2020, at the Quincy Jones Performing Arts Center at Garfield High School in Seattle. 
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Parent Sally Brady came down on Codd for a comment she made during a public work session the night before. Codd had said that the district "would never be able to stop bad people from doing bad things to kids."

"I know this was in the context of saying you're going to try harder ... that comment was made in a public sphere, and it is shocking and unacceptable," Brady said.

Codd later expressed regret about her words.

"I apologize for that comment," she said. "What I should have said instead ... I wake up every single day, working as hard as I can, so that I can look at every single parent in the eye and say, 'your child has an amazing teacher.' And that is what I'm committed to."

READ: Seattle Schools 'rethinking' teacher misconduct policies following KUOW classroom abuse investigation

Commenters also called attention to the fact that up until that point, Juneau hadn't issued a public apology to the school community regarding the misconduct revelations. It had been three weeks since KUOW first reported on the abuse allegations.

"You're talking about healing; there's three levels to healing," said Tierra Johnson, a parent. "There has to be an admittance. There has to be an apology. There has to be an acknowledgement."

caption: Tierra Johnson reacts to statements made by Seattle Public School officials during a public meeting to address concerns about abusive teachers on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at Garfield High School in Seattle.
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Tierra Johnson reacts to statements made by Seattle Public School officials during a public meeting to address concerns about abusive teachers on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at Garfield High School in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

SeBrena Burr, a longtime education advocate and parent, also lambasted the district's response to the classroom abuse.

"The communication coming out of Seattle Public Schools is unacceptable — it is unacceptable," Burr said. "When something is going wrong with our babies, we need to know that they're safe in real time."

Juneau later apologized in response to what she heard from community members.

"We've been working through a lot of different issues, and I do apologize for the district placement of Mr. Johnson at Washington Middle School," she said. "I do apologize for failing our students in this effort, and a lot of the things that have been going on."

Juneau added, "I will commit to do better by this community, by the school systems, by the teachers, by leadership, and of course by our families and our students." She also said the district would "do a reset of expectations and human resources."

Board directors Hersey and DeWolf also apologized for district leadership's lack of action.