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Kirkwood school board to hear report on handling of sexual abuse complaints

Kirkwood school board to hear report on handling of sexual abuse complaints

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ST. LOUIS — An outside firm is scheduled to present a report next month on the Kirkwood School District’s handling of past sexual abuse and misconduct complaints, a district official said this week.

Kirkwood School Board members will hear the findings of an investigation launched after a former teacher, Christopher J. Stephens, was indicted on charges of statutory sodomy, statutory rape and sexual assault.

The allegations came to light when a student took to a Kirkwood alumni Facebook page to report that she was abused by a former teacher in the 1990s. Other students then came forward with their own claims against at least six Kirkwood staffers, including teachers and coaches.

Investigators with Kansas City-based Encompass Resolution have since reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, including previous investigative files and posts from the Facebook page, the district’s human resources chief Howard Fields said at a board meeting Monday.

The firm’s findings will be presented to the board June 28, but district spokeswoman Ginger Cayce noted the board may have other action or further questions that could require follow-up presentations or documents.

Encompass Resolution’s founder, Ann Molloy, said in January that an initial review revealed students were hesitant to report abuse because of a lack of trust in school staff and unclear reporting procedures.

Some staff also reported a “boys’ club” and past failures that ignored or diminished actions by “male perpetrators,” she said.

Molloy recommended the district conduct Title IX training and age-appropriate guidance for students to report concerns about sexual assault and abuse.

Fields, the district’s HR chief, said Monday the district has begun to address some of the firm’s recommendations by updating its website to more easily report inappropriate behavior.

He also said staff will be receiving training about Title IX reporting and regulations.

Molloy said the next step for Encompass Resolution will be to look at the district’s investigation process to see if there were still unreported complaints, and if so, why they are still unreported. She also said it will analyze how investigations have been conducted.

Stephens is awaiting trial and the Kirkwood district is facing a lawsuit from a former Kirkwood High School student who said she was sexually assaulted by a former math teacher.

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Katie Kull covers public safety for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She previously wrote about local government for the Springfield News-Leader. In her spare time, you can find her cooking, riding horses or spending time outdoors.

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