Katrina Hughes only learned on Monday that her kindergarten son's principal wouldn't be finishing the school year and that three staff members had been suspended on Friday.
"A letter should have been sent home, we should have been called something should have happened. This is just ridiculous," she said.
Arkadelphia School District Superintendent Donnie Whitten said staff changes at Louisa E. Perritt Primary were spurred by information from a Department of Human Services (DHS) investigation involving several children.
"They confirmed there was an incident at the school, they also confirmed the staff did not take the appropriate action," he said.
A parent of one of the children involved told KARK the incident being investigated occured in a school bathroom the week before Spring Break. The parent tells us boy students were participating in sexual acts, and some of the boys were possibly forced by other students to do so.
"These are just kids, they are too young to even know what that is. It's just very upsetting," Hughes said.
Whitten would neither confirm nor deny if the incident was sexual in nature. He said Perritt Primary staff were aware of the incident on March 13. However, he said he was not alerted to it until March 28, when a concerned parent called him.
According to Whitten, the parent told him staff members were aware of the incident. However, no actions regarding staff were taken until the preliminary information was released last Wednesday.
"I think when we realized that we had erred and some of the staff had erred, we took immediate action on Friday, " Whitten said. "They asked us as a District not to involve ourselves in the investigation until after they were finished."
By state law teachers, school officials, and school counselors are all considered mandated reporters. That is, they are mandated by law to report child abuse and child maltreatment to authorities.
When asked if he, or anyone else from the school reported the incident to authorities, Whitten said he hadn't contacted authorities to report it, and he didn't believe any district employees had.
"I didn't make a report to DHS," he said.
When was the report made to authorities?" we asked him.
"I do not know the answer to that," he said.
"Do you know if anyone from the school made a report?" we asked again.
"I do not believe anyone from the school made the report. The parents or someone other than the school official who had been working on it made the call, from what I understand," he said. "There are mandatory reporting laws and we all understand that but based on the information I had it had been reported by the parent so what the district did at the time was take action to fully cooperate with DHS and make sure they had full access to the students and staff."
According to Whitten, Principal Wanda O'Quinn, who has held the position as principal for 29 years, had announced her retirement on April 24, to be effective on July 1, 2012. That's one day prior to when Whitten said he received the information from DHS.
O'Quinn then expedited the effective date to April 27, 2012, for her retirement. According to Whitten, the principal was told that she could face suspension or termination like the other employees.
"Is the District allowing her to retire so that the information regarding her involvement in this doesn't have to be released?" we asked Whitten.
"No, that was her choice to retire," he said.
"But she was aware she could face suspension or termination like the other staff involved?" we asked, he confirmed that was the case.
"So, is this really a situation of you can retire now or we'll fire you?" we asked.
"No, like I said this was her decision," he said.
By Arkansas law, the three suspended teachers will have 30 days to appeal their suspension. A hearing may be held, but the Board will vote to either terminate them or allow them to remain on staff. Whitten said he is recommending their termination.
Katrina Hughes is relieved to hear action is being taken on dealing with staff who failed to report the incident, but she believes failing to alert parents and possibly authorities is a problem.
"I trust these people to take care of my child, not brush stuff up under the rug. I don't appreciate any of it," she said.
"Is that what you feel like has happened here, that it's being swept under the rug?" we asked.
"That's exactly what it is, they're sweeping it under the rug, trying to cover something up, and I just don't appreciate it. The teachers here, you've known most of them all your life. They have children who attend this school. You would think they would want to protect the other kids there," she said.
We've been at the school most of the day it's going very well at the school we have some new staff members in place," Whitten said. "We just want to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible for them. We want to ask our patrons to continue supporting the school district through this difficult time. There are a lot of tough decisions to be made, but right now we're not concerned with the adults, we're concerned with the kids. We'll deal with the adults through the process. The kids are our first priority."