Education

Local school districts to review policies after allegedly contaminated PVC flute incident

The individual allegedly contaminated flute-like recorders made out of PVC pipe with semen.
The individual allegedly contaminated flute-like recorders made out of PVC pipe with semen.
Matthias Brändli/Flickr Creative Commons

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It's common for outside arts groups to go into schools and work with students. Now, local school districts – including LAUSD and Saugus Union in Santa Clarita – are reviewing policies for non-district employees who interact with school children.

That comes after a music specialist allegedly contaminated PVC flutes that were given to school children with semen. The specialist visited multiple schools in multiple school districts across Southern California.

According to investigation information published on the Saugus Union website, the music specialist who allegedly contaminated the flutes visited schools in the district to present the workshop at least 10 times since the 2013-2014 school year for evening and non-evening programs. That individual was never a district employee. 

KPCC reached out to Saugus Union School District officials, who declined a request for comment.

In an online FAQ, district officials wrote that the individual who gave out the flutes was not fingerprinted “because this individual was not alone with children."

Even if the individual had been fingerprinted, however, district officials wrote "the individual does not have a history that would have impeded his ability to be around children."

A part of the education code passed in 2010 requires both volunteers and paid providers "working with pupils in a student activity program sponsored by a school district or county office of education" to "obtain fingerprint clearance through a criminal background check completed by the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)."

The code does list exceptions to this requirement, including parent volunteers in the classroom or on field trips, and community members who are considered "non-teaching volunteer aides," supervised by school personnel like teachers, who have been checked.

It is unclear if the visiting music specialist met these requirements.

“Additionally, when engaging specialists for assemblies and workshops, we vet the organizer/organizing authority, not the individuals per se,” the district explained in the FAQ.

National School Safety and Security Services president Ken Trump said depending on organizations to determine if individuals should be able to work with school children isn't enough.

"You can have an organization that may have a credible name or no blemishes in their record, but the question isn't really the organization alone, it is the organization plus who's coming in," Trump said.

He added that he believes the responsibility for vetting outside organizations doing work in schools belongs to both schools and organizations, and that even fingerprint checks shouldn't lull officials into a false sense of security.

One best practice he suggests is making sure a teacher is always present and watching visitors when they're with students.

According to the statement, the Saugus Union School District’s superintendent is considering a new “process for amplifying the reports provided by organizing authorities on the individuals they hire.”

Until the district reviews the policies and procedures that apply to outside providers, the district is cancelling all events where “outside consultants and contractors come into contact with our children.”

https://www.facebook.com/saugususd/posts/1475284032507806

According to an email from a LAUSD spokesperson, LAUSD officials will also review “policies and procedures to determine if there are any areas that require modification.” A spokesperson said LAUSD officials were unavailable for interview.

Fullerton School District officials wrote in a statement that the individual will not be permitted to return to their school district “in an abundance of caution.”

Multiple state and local agencies including the California Department of Justice, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department are investigating the incident, according to a Saugus Union School District update.