Parent retracts allegations of Title IX negligence against Community High School, parent conference still proceeds

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 - 9:13pm

Jenny Hannibal, parent of an Ann Arbor Community High School student retracts complaint of alleged Ann Arbor Public Schools negligence to Title IX Tuesday.

Jenny Hannibal, parent of an Ann Arbor Community High School student retracts complaint of alleged Ann Arbor Public Schools negligence to Title IX Tuesday. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Leah Graham

On April 25, Jenny Hannibal, parent of an Ann Arbor Community High School student, filed a Title IX complaint to the Office of Civil Rights on April 25, alleging Ann Arbor Public Schools had repeatedly violated Title IX protocol by failing to properly report at least 12 incidents of sexual assault.

At 7:21 a.m. on April 30, Hannibal retracted her complaint citing significant inaccuracies in her original incident report.

Part of her statement is included below:

In the last day, I have also become much more aware of the ways that Community High School teachers and staff have carefully handled incidents of sexual assault with the utmost concern for the students involved.

I remain concerned about district policy around responding to incidents of sexual assault, and am committed to working with teachers and administration to help shape a more transparent and consistent policy that reflects national best practices.

I also met with families who share my serious concerns about how sexual assault policies can result in significant problems, and their stories need to inform this process.

I am thankful to a number of Community High School teachers who have met with me and are supportive of my efforts to initiate better policy at the school and district level around responding to incidents of sexual assault.

Students, I want you to know that your teachers care about you immeasurably, and are committed to this issue.

Yet, a previously scheduled parent meeting at Community High School, conducted by Superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools Jeanice Swift, commenced just twenty minutes after the withdrawn statement. Along with Swift, Deputy Superintendent David Comsa, representatives from the Ann Arbor Police Department, staff members from the sexual assault center Safe House and Pioneer High social worker Jonathan Stern addressed questions and concerns from a group of almost 100 parents, Community High students and local Ann Arbor residents.

Swift began the meeting by asserting there were a number of factual inaccuracies contained in the complaint. Though she was not able to comment on individual cases — a measure taken to protect students’ identities — she insisted correct protocols were implemented when the district was made aware of the incidents.

“To the extent that there is factually correct information in the proposed complaint, nothing it contained alerted us to situations we were not already aware of,” Swift said. “Rather, in each situation that the complaint describes the district took the following steps: First, what is known as a DHS-3200 report with child protective services, we are mandated to file such a report under state law and we’ve done so in every instance. Second, we’ve fully cooperated with the Ann Arbor Police Department in the course of all the investigations. We provide copies of our Title IX grievance procedures to parents which have afforded them an opportunity to file a complaint if they chose to do so.”

Originally, Hannibal claimed the administration at Community High School had failed to file Title IX complaints and tardily notified parents and guardians of the victims in cases of sexual assault, harassment and rape. She also claimed Community High School Dean, Marci Tuzinsky, discouraged staff members from reporting assault and even threatened to transfer a staff member who attempted to report an alleged rape to Paul DeAngelis, Ann Arbor Public Schools executive director of high school education. Yet, with Tuzinsky sitting behind her, Swift refuted this assertion.

“No administrator suppressed or discouraged any report of an incident described in the complaint,” Swift said. “I know this because I have confirmed all of the situations included in the complaint were reported to our staff and were investigated pursuant to our Ann Arbor Public Schools procedures. I am confident the district is in compliance with Title IX procedures both with regards to individual cases and with regard to the systems in place to protect our students. Our attention is on support for our students, staff, parents and community.”

One thing Community High parent Janet Bogart said she hoped to gain from attending the meeting was an outlined procedure that both protects students from sexual violence and provides clinical aid for those that might be victims or perpetrators.

“I want to know what the school is doing to ensure the safety of our students,” Bogart said. “I want to know that they provide appropriate training for students and appropriate mental health assessment for offenders and that parents and law enforcement are notified.”

To address these concerns, Swift announced the opening of the Ann Arbor Public School Title IX hotline (734-545-2321) hosted by local Ann Arbor counselor Dr. Edie Richardson.

“In this way, we will be sure that all have access to a professional that will listen in confidence and support with concerns that may still need to be heard,” Swift said. “This is a safe place where individuals can reach for support beyond the school. It will be available across the entire district for anyone who feels the need to use it.”

There will also be additional counselors in the school for as long as needed according to Swift. In addition, the school will be distributing a list of resources for students and parents in order to ensure that all are connected with help available at school and in the community.

Then, Swift acknowledged the need for “responsible communication,” suggesting students and parents be wary of how and where they are communicating information pertaining to the situation.

“It is important to remember that our students and their needs come first,” Swift said.

However, Lynette Clemetson, Community High School parent and director of the University’s Wallace House, criticized the administration's own use of “responsible communication,” alleging the school failed to communicate to students and parents what the expectations were in instances of sexual assault and said the “leadership has to change.”

“We all, in the parent community, understand the legal situation regarding privacy, but there is also leadership,” Clemetson said. “You can respect your legal guidelines and still communicate to your community. This is about leadership. You had an assault in the school and we found out about measles cases, but we didn’t find out about this.”

Similar to Clemetson, Community High School junior Kacy Dumouchen felt dissatisfied with the procedures in place regarding communication and reporting. She claimed these issues have been a long-time problem at the school.

“I’ve been scared to come to school for two years now,” Dumouchen said. “For this report, nine pages isn’t that long, this has been going on for longer than we’ve been here. It’s not even surprising at that point, which is depressing to say, but you’re like … ‘yeah, makes sense.’ You almost feel like it’s a movement that somebody decided to collect any information at all. It’s like, ‘oh, somebody must care a little bit, because I haven’t seen that the entire time I’ve been here.’”

Some parents and students, like Reema Jarjoura and her daughter, were surprised by the news.

“I love Community. My daughter is very comfortable here,” Jarjoura said. “She feels comfortable with the teachers here. She’s just as surprised as I am. She’s just questioning why this is OK.”

Following Swift, Lt. Aimee Metzer of the Ann Arbor Police Department discussed the lengthy nature of processing a Title IX case. This, she suggested, contributes to the delay in reporting an incident to the community at large.

“The investigation is not a fast process …. we can’t release any information to the public unless the investigation has completely been adjudicated or if it’s a prosecution denial,” Metzer said. “We start by believing the students, and we move forward from that point through the adjudication process.”

Like Metzer, Jonathan Stern spoke about the standard reporting process at his school, assuring that “students are believed.”

“Usually we are sharing these things weeks, months, years after these things take place,” Stern said. “Students are listened to actively; they tell me as much of their story as they wish. The details are their own. Sometimes they identify who hurt them, and sometimes they do not. Students are believed; they are given as much control over what comes next as I can give. They are informed of resources that would be available to them in the community. They’re told about what the support is inside of the school, and I can give them sort of a bare-bones of what happens if they make a formal report. Students are encouraged to seek help.”

But according to Community High School student Ruby Holyszko, this response wasn’t the case at Community High School and that the administration continues to “lie.” When reading the report, Holyszko said she wasn’t surprised.

“It was like looking into a glass box,” Holyszko said. “The administration said that, when it happened, they tried their hardest to keep the perpetrator and the victim apart, but that’s just not true.”

With the withdrawal of the complaint and rumors still surfacing, Janet Bogart said her response is to just wait and see how everything plays out. According to Bogart, all that matters is that the priority focus of the administration and of the community as a whole is placed on the students.

“Other than this incident, we’ve been pretty happy with this school,” Bogart said. “We’ll keep an eye on things and see how it goes and how the school responds, making sure that they’re keeping the kids safe.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the number of lawyers present at the meeting. There only lawyer present on behalf of AAPSS was David Comsa, who is deputy superintendent of the district.