According to statements made by Superintendent Donnie Whitten, Perritt staff, including Principal Wanda O'Quinn, were aware of the situation by March 13th or 14th. However, despite being mandated by the state to report suspected child maltreatment and sexual abuse, authorities were not notified until a concerned parent made the call.
Whitten said he was made aware of the situation when a concerned parent contacted him on March 28, 2012, telling him of the concerns about the situation and also alerting him to the fact DHS had been contacted. Whitten, also a mandated reporter under state law, decided not to contact authorities to report the incident, saying a DHS investigation was already underway.
Following the release of preliminary information to the school district by DHS, Whitten said he decided to suspend three employees and recommend their employment be terminated. Principal O'Quinn had announced her retirement on April 24th to be effective July 1, 2012. However, in light of the information from DHS, Whitten told us she expedited her retirement to be effective April 27th.
The DHS investigation case files currently have not been turned over to Clark County Prosecutor Blake Batson, however he believes they will be within the next week.
Superintendent and Principal Emails
KARK submitted a Freedom of Information Request for all emails sent from and received by the district email accounts of both Superintendent Donnie Whitten and Principal Wanda O'Quinn between March 1, 2012 and April 30, 2012.
March 30, 2012
The first mentions of the student situation crops up in Whitten's email account. Rodney Moore, a member of the Arkadelphia School Board, requests a meeting with Whitten to discuss "an issue". Nearly an hour after receiving Moore's email, Whitten sends his own to School Board president Jeff Root.
The email says in part, "In regards to the situation at Perritt, DHS has been furnished all the information they have requested. It is my opinion we should wait until the investigation is complete before doing anything else. Mrs. O'Quinn and I agreed that the school will cooperate fully with the investigation."
The Subject header is labeled as "follow-up" however we were unable to locate a previous email with in the hundreds of documents provided to establish an initial conversation regarding the situation.
The email from Whitten goes on to note, "There are several stories and accusations that have been made, none of which can be substantiated by the teacher, principal, or counselor because the stories keep changing. DHS has asked to interview (number redacted) students at this point. I think a third party investigation is the best thing at this point, even though it may cause some negative reaction from parents. It's the right thing to do."
April 11, 2012
The next correspondence clearly connected to the incident, and there may be others we could not link it to, due to the redaction of a great deal of content in the emails, was written by Whitten again to Root, titled Update.
Whitten notes the students at Perritt were interviewed the week before and he expects school staff to be interviewed as well. He writes, "One of the parents (the one who removed his child) has contacted several board members about the situation concerned that the school did not report the situation immediately."
The email continues, " I reviewed the mandatory reporting law again last week which requires any school staff member to call the hotline if they can establish "reasonable cause" that child maltreatment actually occurred. We have contacted the parents to try and discuss/resolve the matter, but the parent has rejected our requests to meet and discuss the situation with the principal. It is my understand that some of the accusations are very serious in nature, but it has yet to be determined if these accusations were founded."
Root replies with his thanks, saying he hasn't heard anything further since their last visit.
April 20, 2012
Whitten sends an email, to a redacted address, saying he believes it would be "a good idea for you to do a "touching"/ "appropriate behavior" type lesson with all the classes at Perritt at this time. It is important that we are proactive so that students know that any kind of (redacted) is wrong and should not be going on...even if it is considered play or a game. You could also send a positive notice to parents, letting them know you will be discussing this lesson and tips for following up at home...etc...".
April 23, 2012
A response email, again with the email redacted in the materials provided to KARK reads, "Mrs. O'Quinn and I have been discussing what to do to address appropriate/inappropriate touching, etc. We decided that I would go to each class and teach appropriate/inappropriate touching along with a lesson on Summer Safety."
In addition, the staff member intended to review tattling versus reporting, saying some students don't understand what to report or when to report.
Whitten also sends an email to O'Quinn the same day, referring to a letter not mentioned before any other emails saying, "When you bring the letter, do not mention it to anyone. I've got to meet with Ed (School District Legal Counsel) about the media."
Two minutes later, Whitten send himself a version of a statement regarding the matter.
Nearly an hour later, he then writes an email to an unknown number of staff, the district redacted their email addresses, saying that as of Friday all staff members had completed their interview with DHS.
"Now that the investigation is complete, it is necessary for the school district to obtain a written statement from each of you concerning your role and knowledge of the allged incident (s). Please submit a narrative outlining your involvement and knowledge (including timelines) to the best of your recollection. Your written narrative should be delivered to my office in a sealed envelope by noon on Tuesday, April 24. Please do not send your statement via email."
Within the hour, he sent an email out to the "Admin Team" saying this was a "good article from Arkansas Business magazine for people who carry phones paid for by the school, keep confidential student or staff information off your phone".
The article outlines how phone records, including emails and the contents of texts are subject to Freedom of Information Requests, noting how FOI helped establish Razorback Football Head Coach Bobby Petrino's affair through his phone.
Less than three hours after the email requested staff members' narratives regarding their knowledge of events, Whitten sends out an email to the School Board noting O'Quinn had submitted her "resignation/intent to retire to me this morning. It is effective June 30, 2012."
April 24, 2012
Approximately 24 hours later, Whitten emailed Clark County Prosecutor Blake Batson, providing him with what appears to be a statement regarding the DHS investigation which reads, "The Arkadelphia School District is wroking with the Department of Human Services on a confidential student discipline matter. The school cannot release any information concerning the students. Our first priority is ensuring the well-being of all students and providing them with a supportive, positive and safe learning environment."
The next email highlights that KARK had inquired about a possible sexual abuse situation involving children at Perritt.
Whitten goes on to say to School Board members in the email, "please do not talk with the media or anyone else about the situation at Perritt. Any calls you receive should be referred to my office. If you would like to talk to me, please call. I won't discuss over email or text."
Messages to Brand Management Representative
On the 24th, Whitten also alerted Lucie Pathmann, the director of Brand Management and Communications at Little Rock's Stone Ward agency. She noted she spoke with Millie Ward, the company's president, who agreed with Lucie's advice to Whitten.
She writes, "Also, please be sure NO ONE but you needs to speak with the media. If you think the principal needs the statement that's ok, but remember, ONE VOICE, ONE MESSAGE. I'll check in with you tomorrow regarding everything."
April 25, 2012
A 3:31 PM email notes Whitten had still not received O'Quinn's narrative statement. Emails note that Whitten met with DHS.
April 27, 2012
A succession of three emails, all to email addresses redacted by the district, are issued asking to meet with someone in their office at 3:15 p.m., a teacher in their classroom at 3:25 p.m. and another teacher in her classroom at 3:35 p.m. that day.
Two hours after those meetings, Whitten issued an email to the School Board, saying he had suspended four employees at Perritt with the recommendation they be terminated.
However, "Mrs. O'Quinn submitted her resignation/retirement effective immediately. therefore, we now have three employees who have been suspended and recommended for termination," Whitten wrote.
An entire paragraph has been redacted from the email, but was not redacted in another. It noted, "The prosecuting attorney issued a subpoena that was delivered to my office at noon by the sheriff. We have fully cooperated with DHS from the beginning of the investigation, and I turned over all statements I received this week to the sheriff, prosecuting attorney, and DHS.
That paragraph runs counter to a letter issued to parents on May 1, 2012, which told parents at Perritt Primary, "The police are not involved in this investigation." (emphasis theirs)
It also conflicts what KARK was told by members of the Clark County Sheriff's Department about whether they were conducting or had conducted an investigation into the Arkadelphia School District. They told us they were not.
April 30, 2012
Whitten sends an email to All Staff, quoting the statement provided to the press, and following by announcing some changes to personnel at Perritt.
"Ms. Nikki Thomas has been reassigned as principal of Perritt Primary School for the remainder of the year. Ms. Shannon Prince will serve as acting principal at Peake Elementary School for the remainder of the year."
That announcement, coming a full 24 hours before the School Board met in executive session and voted to approve placing Ms. Thomas at Perritt and Ms. Prince at Peake on May 1, 2012, during the School Board's personnel meeting.
Whitten went on to tell staff in the email, "It is important all employees remain professional and focused on your work with our students ... Please do not speculate or discuss this matter at school, in the community, on social media, with your students or with the press. This is a very sensitive matter that involves our children and we must protect them at all costs."
Whitten also received an email regarding the suspension/termination of Shawna Childs. Childs was named Perritt Primary's Teacher of the Year for 2011. But apparently was named as one of the teacher's involved, based on the email sent to Whitten by a parent. That parent wrote in support of Childs, saying she was "always available for us to talk to if we had questions, and was always there for my son."