BALOG COLUMN: Parents need reassurance, clear communication
Let's face it, Durham School Services is not having the best year ever.
There was that strike threat that kept parents, teachers and administrators on edge for months.
And now there are allegations that a Durham bus driver made inappropriate advances toward two girls who rode his bus. They were 12 and 7 — yes, 7.
The driver, Macneil Deas, has been charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and assault and battery.
He was placed on administrative leave in December and was charged in January with the second incident.
Four months passed. And then the district mailed letters to parents whose children had been on Deas' bus.
Somebody dropped the ball here.
That reporting lag raised some eyebrows, including those of school board member Elizabeth Moffly, “especially in light of the Citadel incidents.” She can't be the only person who made that connection.
Moffly has been a guardian ad litem for children in abuse and neglect cases.
“To not have anybody act upon it, and also knowing that this person had been exposed to the rest of the children, it's a little disturbing,” she said.
Don Elsey, the director of clinical services for the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center, called the school district a good partner for child safety. The district encouraged parents to call the center.
“We're glad to speak to any parent who has concerns about their child, even if it's just an on-the-phone consultation,” Elsey added.
Checks and balances
The communication between the district, the police and the bus company is solid, officials say.
“We have been a partner of the Charleston County Schools since 2007 and have utilized a consistent screening process for all driver applicants as well as a system to check drivers throughout their employment,” said Durham spokeswoman Carina Noble. And it's what you would expect: criminal background checks, drug and alcohol testing, etc.
No system is foolproof, but forgive parents if they're a little upset at the four-month delay.
The gap between the first incident being reported and the letter being sent to parents is one that district officials initially attributed to not being able to access information about which students might have been on the bus driven by Deas during the previous school year.
Turns out that's not the case.
“I don't want parents to be concerned that we don't know where kids are,” said school district attorney John Emerson. In this incident, a parent took his concerns to both Durham and the school district. No one should have to do that.
The district and Durham say they're in constant communication. Hopefully in the future that communication will be a little faster and a little more clear, and parents will know a little sooner.
“We always want to leave people the message that if the child has been harmed, there's incredible treatment in our area so that what happened doesn't define them for the rest of their lives,” Elsey said.
That's something parents shouldn't have to worry about in the first place.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.