Follow-up on our investigation after student protests at Kent Roosevelt

Image of Kent Roosevelt High School
Kent Roosevelt High School pictured in a file photo. Roger Hoover/The Portager

Late last year, dozens of Kent Theodore Roosevelt High School students walked out of the building during school hours to protest what they believed was the mishandling of sexual harassment allegations against at least one district employee.

When we reported on the walkout at the time, we decided not to publish details of the allegation until we had investigated the claims. So we withheld the names of both the employee and the student, even though the latter was willing to go on record with her story.

After looking into this, we weren’t able to substantiate the allegations. Our reporter interviewed the student who created an Instagram post that led to the protest. We also exchanged messages with two other students who had frequent interactions with the employee, and both said they never experienced any problems. We reached out to several other students who didn’t reply.

We also requested the personnel file of the employee from Kent City Schools and another former employer. Nothing in these records indicated a problem.

From these inquiries, we never obtained anything to substantiate the student’s claims. This doesn’t mean there isn’t any truth to them. It just means we found no evidence after a thorough effort.

Because of the publicity the story initially received and because we told readers we would be investigating the allegations, we felt it was important to let you know the results of our inquiry. If anyone has information they would like to share with us, you can contact Portager Editor Ben Wolford at [email protected]. (All Portager email addresses are hosted by ProtonMail, a secure email service. To send end-to-end encrypted emails to us, simply create a free ProtonMail account and write to us.)

How the school district handles complaints

We also spoke with Tom Larkin, assistant superintendent of Kent City Schools. He said the district investigated the complaint but could not substantiate it.

We asked him to describe the typical process administrators follow for handling these kinds of complaints. Depending on the details of the complaint, they’re often handled by the principal or athletic director. If a complaint is more severe, or the principal and athletic director are unavailable, Larkin handles the complaint. He explained the procedures he follows, noting that he can’t speak for how colleagues would handle complaints.

Upon receiving a complaint, Larkin first meets with the person who filed it. If the complaint is coming from a student, he invites their parents or guardians to be involved. While meeting, Larkin asks for a written statement, or if they’re not comfortable doing that, he takes notes and asks follow-up questions. He reads his notes back for accuracy.

After he gathers their statement, Larkin asks if there are witnesses the complainant would like him to reach out to. 

Immediately after gathering all the information from the complainant, he considers whether to implement any interim measures to protect safety and the educational environment. He also considers any supportive measures, as educators are required to report abuse to places like the Department of Jobs and Family Services, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio High School Athletic Association. 

Next, Larkin notifies the person the complaint was filed against. They meet in person and he explains the complaint. Then he offers them the chance to provide a written response, or he takes notes and asks the respondent to sign off on the notes for accuracy.

Similarly, Larkin asks the respondent if they have any witnesses who could support their statement.

“Now that I’ve talked to the complainant and I’ve talked to the respondent, now comes the investigation,” he said. “I start calling the people the complainant asked me to speak with and I follow that same process. Either I ask for a written statement or I take notes and they sign off on them. Then I do the same with the respondent.”

After that, he determines if there are any other potential witnesses who were not mentioned by either party. These people might offer unbiased information. 

Whenever the people interviewed are students, he invites parents or guardians to be present. Throughout the entire process, Larkin keeps the district’s lawyer informed.

“I’m asking them to keep an eye on my procedure because I take pride in my job and want to make sure I’m thorough,” he said. “I want to be fair to the complainant and respondent and be fair to everyone involved. So procedurally I’m always asking our legal counsel to make sure I’m following through with the process.” 

Once all the evidence is gathered, Larkin reviews the facts. 

“If the preponderance of evidence is, ‘Yes, I have concerns. I feel something was done wrong or inappropriately,’ well then we have a series of questions,” he said. “Is there disciplinary action involved? If so, what is it? What does the contract say if it’s a teacher involved? Are there restorative measures that we need to put in place to make things right for the complainant if something was wrong? Are there supportive measures we need to put in place to support anybody involved in this process? Because in the end, we want everyone to be in a good place moving forward.” 

On the other hand, if he determines that, “‘No, we don’t think there’s evidence that substantiates what the concerns of the complaint are,’ we ask ourselves are there interim measures we need to take?” Larkin said. “Maybe we can’t substantiate those claims, but is there something we need to put in place to make things better than what they are? Do we need to put support in place, whether it’s for the complainant or the respondent, whether it’s a student or an employee? What support do either or all of them need in order to move forward in a positive way?”

That’s essentially the process, one Larkin says is quite time-consuming. 

“You want to move in an expeditious way for all parties involved, but at the same time the number one priority is doing your best to get all the information and making the best decision possible,” he said. “It’s a balancing act of moving quickly, but at the same time doing what’s right. I take pride in giving it its due time and due process.”

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Ben Wolford is the editor and publisher of The Portager.

[email protected]

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Maria McGinnis is a contributing writer for The Portager.