AURORA, Colo. — Parents in the Cherry Creek School District have been sharing their concerns about allegations of their children being sexually assaulted or harassed at school.
On Monday, many attended a Board of Education meeting, bringing their concerns directly to district leaders and claiming there has been little done to protect their children.
One of the parents who spoke on Monday believes there are many things the district is doing well. However, she wants to make sure students feel safe going to school, allowing them to focus on their classes.
“What are we doing right, but what are we doing wrong? And how are we fixing it so that everybody knows that we really do have a safe place to send our kids to school. And that's what I'm counting on the board and district to do is to be more accountable," said Melissa Scully, who has three children in the district.
Mackenzie Sleesman is a junior at Cherokee Trail High School who says she has experienced a handful of instances where she has been sexually assaulted or harassed. She said the incidents have made her feel alone.
"I'd say maybe felt like it was like normal, even though it's not normal or shouldn't be normal," Sleesman said. “My sister is in middle school. I just don't want her to go through anything that I've ever been through."
A large group of parents in the district work on a variety of issues aimed at supporting open communication between families and parents. Lori Gimelshteyn is part of the group and came to the board meeting in support of students impacted by the alleged sexual assault. She said one of the policies the district uses in such scenarios are no-contact agreements, which ban communication between the students involved in the incident, among other things.
“It's not addressing any of the issues, and these student victims are being forced to go to a school and to a learning environment where they see their assaulter every day," Gimelshteyn said.
Ben Toth said his daughter was sexually assaulted and believes the district failed to do anything about it.
“Tried to do what we could do as parents to keep her safe, but we can't be at the school every day," Toth said. "I think the worst feeling, next to what happened, is the fact that it's continuing to happen to other kids."
Toth wants to see more than no-contact agreements employed by the district when allegations of sexual assault arise. He does not know what the new policies would look like, but he said there are many parents willing to help determine what those answers are.
“I've seen firsthand what it can do to a small child, and as kids mature, they become more aware of their emotions and they're more affected by these things," Toth said. “I just want to see some improvement, and I want to see the district do something about it. If the leadership can't make the changes, then maybe we need new leadership.”
Officials with the Cherry Creek School District provided the following statement after Monday's meeting:
No-contact agreements are just one tool that we have when working with families to address concerns. Anytime an allegation is brought forward, we investigate and work with the families of all students involved to seek a solution where the student bringing the concern feels safe and supported at school. We follow all applicable laws and policies in investigating, implementing safety plans, or imposing discipline.
We cannot discuss any specific student cases as we must protect the privacy of our students.
Cherry Creek Schools is committed to transparency and we communicate any time there is a situation that impacts an entire school community.
For example, we send phone calls and emails home any time there is a school in secure perimeter or when there is social media threat circulating in a school community that is creating widespread concern.
However, we will not violate the privacy of students and potentially retraumatize victims by sending communications to an entire school community when we learn about a student who reports being the victim of an assault.
We take all allegations of harassment seriously and work with families to put into action safety plans that protect students. We also follow all laws and board policies in how we handle and investigate allegations.