The tragic story about how an Aurora middle school teacher managed to sexually abuse at least five of his students over several years without being caught is by itself excruciating.
But the part of the story where three Prairie Middle School administrators violated state law, good sense and common decency to take it upon themselves to confront and harass one of teacher Brian Vasquez’ victims is appalling.
The horrific tale began last year when police arrested Vasquez after learning he had sexually assaulted a teenage student who attended the Cherry Creek district school he’d taught at for years.
Vasquez was arrested in August and now faces 37 counts related to sexual contact and sexual communications between him and the girls identified as victims. Upon his arrest, he surprised investigators when he volunteered details indicating that there was not just one victim, but at least five. There’s really no way of knowing for sure if there were more.
Vasquez’ crimes were insidious. He pressured the girls to succumb to him and manipulated them in numerous ways. His schtick, his charm and his methods were hardly innovative. When it comes to child-molesters, they were classic.
That makes the criminal malfeasance or complicity of Prairie Middle School Principal David Gonzales, Assistant Principal Adrienne “A.J.” MacIntosh and counselor Cheryl Somers-Wegienka equally horrific.
In 2013, what appeared to be the first, or one of the first, of Vasquez’ victims went to school authorities to tell them what Vasquez had done to her.
Not only did these three administrators not believe the student, but they violated state law and school protocol by not turning the matter over to police. Instead, these incompetent administrators decided to conduct their own “investigation,” determining that the abuse never happened.
It gets worse. The trio called a confrontation session over the allegations, which included the student and Vasquez. There, they told the girl how valuable Vasquez was as a teacher at Prairie Middle School. They told her that if she pursued her allegation, that it could ruin Vasquez’ career and life. They pressured the girl into recanting her allegations.
Then, it gets much worse. They made the girl apologize to her rapist. They made her hug him. And then, they suspended her from school.
It’s hard to fathom how not one but three school leaders from a school district like Cherry Creek could be so incompetent and so cruel.
And then comes the worst. Apparently Vasquez was emboldened by not only getting away with sexually abusing a student, but also by having school administrators punish his victim simply for telling. So Vasquez began escalating his attacks, according to a grand jury indictment of the three school officials.
It appears that Vasquez was not only not prevented from abusing other teenage girls, he was virtually given license to do it.
Gonzales and Macintosh were placed on administrative leave last week after being indicted. Somers-Wegienka no longer works for the school district.
It’s beyond painful for the community to grapple with the facts about what these school officials did to this girl, and just as painful to consider that they facilitated the victimization of at least four other students who were under their charge.
Now, the only criminal charges these three face are misdemeanors for failing to properly report the crimes.
That’s virtually a crime by itself.
If a school district like Cherry Creek can harbor this kind of malfeasance, others certainly can, too.
Every school and district in the state should as soon as possible train all school employees on how to handle allegations of sexual abuse involving students. But more importantly, state lawmakers should underscore the gravity of these crimes and their prevention by making it more than just a slap on the hand to insert themselves into a crime as complicated and dangerous as sexual abuse of students.
It’s too late to undo these crimes, but vigilant school systems backed by new, potent laws to provide justice for criminal negligence like this will go a long way in making sure it never happens again.
There already is a law, but there really ought to be a better one that links the severity of the punishment with the severity of the crime.
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