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Garfield High School sex abuse allegations reveal weaknesses in staff oversight laws

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  • A coach allowed to work at a Seattle high school – despite being barred from the district.
  • An abandoned sexual abuse investigation.
  • No requirement that school districts report abusive coaches to the state to prevent their hire elsewhere.

Sexual abuse allegations against two former coaches at Garfield High School in Seattle reveal numerous failures and weaknesses in the oversight system meant to protect children in schools.

Two Washington state laws designed to keep abusive teachers out of the classroom — and to report suspected abuse of students — do not typically apply to staff without state certificates, which is often the case with coaches.

One of the former Garfield coaches, Walter Junior Jones, 46, has pleaded not guilty to two felony child rape charges for allegedly sexually assaulting a student beginning in 2013 when she was 13 and practicing with the girls’ basketball team.

The second coach, Marvin Wayne Hall, 50, was fired from his job as head coach of the Garfield girls’ basketball team in 2022 after reports that he had an abusive sexual relationship with the same girl beginning in 2017, when she was 17. Hall denies the allegations.

Under state law, it is a criminal offense for K-12 school staff to have sexual relationships with K-12 students.

The former student, now 24, filed a police report in 2021 alleging that Jones had raped her multiple times. The Hall allegations came to light later, after she reportedly told multiple people at Garfield that Hall, too, had abused her. At least one person reported the allegations to police.

Jones’ child rape trial is set to begin July 15 in King County Superior Court.

Hall has not been charged with a crime, but the allegations against him are under investigation, said Casey McNerthney, spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

The former student has filed a notice of tort claim seeking damages from the Seattle Public Schools. The district declined multiple interview requests. Seattle Public Schools “is in receipt of a claim for damages related to the conduct of the employees you mentioned and while that claim is pending, SPS has no further comments,” said John Cerqui, deputy counsel, by email.

Read: Two former Garfield High School athletic coaches accused of sexually assaulting student

Some states hold coaches to a higher standard of oversight

In Washington, districts must report serious misconduct by teachers and other certificated school staff to the state for potential investigation and action against their certification. The same is not true for coaches who do not hold teaching certificates nor other non-certificated school staff. Serious misconduct can include abusing students, coming to work intoxicated, or sexually harassing colleagues.

The state Office of Professional Practices “currently does not have [disciplinary] recourse within the law if certification is not at stake,” said Catherine Slagle, who heads the office within the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“There are some states that do require coaches to hold certification issued by their state department of education,” said Slagle. California, New York, Arizona and Florida are among the states that require coaches to be certificated. Washington does not.

Slagle said a law requiring coach certification would enable her office to investigate and discipline serious misconduct by coaches, up to permanently revoking their certificates.

Neither Hall nor Jones held positions requiring state certification.

Changing the law also would enable the state to add disciplinary actions against coaches to a nationwide database that districts can use to make hiring decisions, and to an online disciplinary list that can be easily referenced by recreational athletic programs that hire coaches.

Even more broadly, Slagle said, the state could require certification or permits of everyone who works in schools — or simply give the education department the authority to investigate non-certificated staff.

State investigation and discipline of serious misconduct, including sexual abuse, tends to happen on a much shorter time frame than criminal prosecution, which can take several years — if it happens at all.

Research by the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center also found that criminal sexual assault charges in King County are often pleaded down to misdemeanor non-sex crimes, meaning those convicted may not need to disclose them when applying for jobs working with kids.

Broadening the state’s jurisdiction over serious misconduct by school staff, and enabling the state to pull the licenses of abusive staff members regardless of school role, could make it much easier to keep dangerous adults out of schools.

Washington state’s mandatory child abuse reporting law does not apply to all school staff

Multiple district staff members mishandled allegations of sexual misconduct by Marvin Hall, a district investigation shows. Some did not report suspected abuse at all; others reported it to the wrong authorities.

State law requires that professional school staff report suspected child abuse or neglect to police or Child Protective Services. That includes certificated staff, like teachers, counselors, and principals — but not non-certificated staff, including coaches, instructional assistants, cafeteria workers, and secretaries.

Although Seattle Public Schools requires all school staff, regardless of position, to report suspected abuse to their principal or “proper administrator,” and to the district safety and security department, that did not consistently happen in the Garfield cases.

When Patrick McCarthy, executive director of athletics for Seattle Public Schools, received a report in 2022 from his second-in-command, Tara Davis, of Hall’s alleged sexual abuse of a student, he told a district investigator that “he did not report the allegations because he told Ms. Davis to make sure to report the allegations to HR.”

Instead, when the investigator interviewed Davis, she reported that after she sent the allegations and evidence to McCarthy, he was the one who forwarded it to the district’s human resources department. The investigator found that neither Davis nor McCarthy escalated the allegations to human resources.

Another reporting misstep in Hall’s case, investigators found, happened at the Southeast campus of Interagency Academy, a public school in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood.

According to a district investigator, a former Interagency staff member, Nyasha Sarju, told her “that an Interagency student told her that Mr. Hall had made advances towards her when she worked with him at Rainier Vista,” two years prior, when the girl was 16 years old. Sarju, a former Garfield girls' basketball player, told the investigator that she felt the relationship between the players and coaches was too cozy. Her mother is Seattle School Board member Michelle Sarju.

Nyasha Sarju told the investigator that she asked the woman, now 18 years old, if she wanted to talk to someone about what happened, but the woman said no. Sarju never reported the allegation to district officials, the investigation found, “a violation of the District on reporting these types of allegations.”

Asked for comment, Sarju told KUOW by email that the investigator misquoted her.

"I shared that the student said he was weird, and [the investigator] interpreted that as he made 'advances,'" Sarju said. She said the comment the student made was concerning in hindsight, but not at the time.

“There was no allegation,” Sarju wrote.

Shannon McMinimee, an attorney who has represented Seattle Public Schools and led district legal teams in Tacoma, Yakima, and now Bellevue, said districts should go beyond the state mandatory reporting law and require all staff members to report suspected abuse to police or Child Protective Services.

“Many school districts expand their mandatory reporting obligations to all employees, even though the law only speaks to certificated staff,” McMinimee said.

Some districts made that change following the notorious 1996 child rape case involving Highline School District teacher Mary Kay LeTourneau and a sixth-grade student, in which a school custodian witnessed the abuse, McMinimee said.

Ideally, the state’s mandatory reporter law would expand to include all district staff, not just certificated educators, McMinimee said. In 17 states, all adults, regardless of their profession, are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

“When the law is clear and applies to everybody, it is easy to train and explain,” McMinimee said. “When you have a law that applies to some, but not all, then you have people questioning if it applies to them.”

Seattle Public Schools halts investigations when alleged abusers resign

The district fired Marvin Hall from his coaching position at Garfield in 2022 as it investigated allegations of sexual misconduct and boundary violations with students, including that he told another student that he had a crush on her.

When Hall then resigned from his other position, on the high school’s security staff, the district informed him that because he resigned during an investigation, he was ineligible for re-hire in the district.

Hall’s resignation also halted the district’s investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against him, the investigation report said.

Although it is standard practice in Seattle Public Schools to stop investigations when accused employees resign, McMinimee said that investigating staff abuse allegations is about much more than deciding whether to fire them.

“Oftentimes, the removal of one staff member doesn't change an environment if the environment itself has allowed for this behavior to occur over time,” McMinimee said. Completing abuse investigations also allows districts to make thorough reports to law enforcement and the state — and to future employers considering hiring the staff member.

School districts are also allowed by state law to expunge records of sexual misconduct allegations that have not been substantiated in an investigation.

“If you don't finish your investigation, then you can't tell their [prospective employer] ‘After an investigation, we determined, by a preponderance of the evidence that this person violated our policies and procedures and engaged in sexual misconduct,’” McMinimee said. Without a complete investigation, “You just say nothing, and then the person stays in the system,” she said.

In the case of Marvin Hall, the district launched a second investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against him after receiving photograph and text message records between Hall and the alleged victim. The investigator then concluded that the sexual misconduct allegations were substantiated.

A coach was banned from working in the district. Garfield still let him

Walter Jones had been forced to resign from coaching at Ballard High School in 2008, and was barred from employment or volunteer work in Seattle Public Schools as a result, according to a Seattle Police Department investigation.

Still, Garfield High School athletic director Ed Haskins let him volunteer in 2013 as a weight training coach with students, police found. Haskins “thought he recalled an issue coming up regarding Jones’ background check which prevented him from being vetted as a volunteer,” the police reported in the probable cause affidavit.

Haskins did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Chris Williams, a Seattle education attorney who handles cases involving local districts but is not involved in these, said that at many schools the athletic director — not the principal - supervises coaches.

“Athletic directors tend to provide less oversight than principals,” Williams said, and “identify more with the coaches than taking a supervisory role.”

Adding to that, Williams said coaches are often given wide berth to treat — or mistreat — students compared to classroom teachers. “The culture of sports is to be tough on the kids, and athletic directors come from that culture, where we defer to coaches all the time.”

Editor's Note 5/3/2024: This story was amended on Thursday, May 2, to more clearly reflect the role played by a former staff member in the allegations against the two coaches.

Read more from KUOW's award-winning series on staff abuse of students in Seattle Public Schools.

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