News release: Superintendent provides additional EMS investigation details at parent forum
Nov. 15, 2023
ELIZABETH, Colo. — During a parent forum conducted Wednesday evening, Nov. 15, at Elizabeth Middle School, Superintendent Dan Snowberger provided roughly 50 attendees additional information regarding the situations with staff and investigations related to Colorado’s mandatory reporting law, C.R.S. 19-3-304. Following are the main points:
- Late in the afternoon of Sept. 26, Snowberger was informed by Elizabeth Police Chief Jeff Engel about a complaint filed with law enforcement regarding an EMS teacher stemming from concerns last spring. Engel notified Snowberger that the case was transferred to the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office to ensure a fair and impartial investigation.
- Snowberger also received a call from the investigator with the 18th Judicial Branch providing him with limited information about the concerns that were being investigated.
- Snowberger immediately directed that the teacher involved report to his office the next morning.
- Anytime complaints on an individual are made involving students, that individual is placed on administrative leave to ensure both the individual and students are protected until the investigation is complete.
- Because this complaint went directly to law enforcement, Snowberger had no way of knowing which student or students may have been involved thus further requiring such action.
- Every individual has a right to be considered innocent until proven otherwise. This particular investigation is more complicated because it involved allegations from the past and a need to interview a larger number of individuals, some of whom are no longer in the district.
- Because the teacher’s actions remain under investigation by law enforcement, the district will not act until the outcome of that investigation is complete.
- Administration did not place a long-term substitute in the classroom of the teacher on leave; that situation has been rectified for the sake of students’ educational continuity.
- On Sept. 27, Snowberger received a detailed request from the investigators to secure records pertaining to the concerns expressed. This included notes, emails, electronic documents, and any personal information of specific allegations in the possession of staff at Elizabeth Middle School.
- Prior to this time, no district officials or board members were made aware of the concerns that had been reported to school administration last year.
- The district waited to conduct its investigation until law enforcement could finish its initial interviews; a criminal investigation will always take precedence over a school district investigation to prevent interference in the process.
- On Oct. 27, Snowberger received an update from the investigator that ESD staff had been interviewed and he could begin to interview and gather information.
- Parallel to the law enforcement investigation, the district is currently looking into the response to the students’ concerns, with specific attention being paid to district policy and procedures, which includes adherence to legal requirements.
- While school administrators’ behavior may or may not rise to a level of criminal conduct, Snowberger said the district holds staff members to high expectations regarding their duties to ensure the safety of students.
- Snowberger’s investigation began on Monday, Oct. 30. All materials gathered for law enforcement were organized in chronological order so he had a clear understanding of when concerns had surfaced and how those concerns were handled by administration and staff at EMS. Snowberger conducted interviews and provided staff the opportunity to fill in any missing information not captured in the written documentation.
- Also on Oct, 30, Snowberger was given permission to interview students who had been identified as having knowledge or being involved in the concerns last school year.
- He reached out to seven parents whose children had been identified, requesting the opportunity to meet with them and/or their students. Three initially responded to the request and set up time to meet; four did not immediately respond.
- Based upon his interviews with staff, students and parents, Snowberger found a number of concerns involving staff adherence to district policies and law regarding the mandatory reporting requirement when receiving allegations that involved a child.
- Because due process is required, the district will not identify those individuals at this time.
- Snowberger reminded forum attendees that employees are placed on leave when their continued presence on campus could compromise an investigation or lead to allegations of interference in that process.
- The district has placed additional counseling resources at EMS to ensure students and staff have support as they work through these changes in their school environment.
- Upon receiving any additional information from the individuals on leave, Snowberger will weigh the facts, then make a recommendation to the Board of Education sometime after Thanksgiving Break.
- In the meantime, Elizabeth Middle School’s new administrative team has assumed leadership. That consists of:
- Kimberly Runyan, previous assistant principal at Elizabeth High School.
- Mark Carara, retired principal from Falcon High School in Colorado Springs.
- Jim McCoin, retired athletic director from Colorado Springs District 11.
- This team will not act as substitutes but is empowered to make all decisions around the day-to-day operations at Elizabeth Middle School. It is not involved in the investigation or looking back, he said. Each person’s focus is forward so students receive the continued support and quality education they deserve.
After providing these updates, Snowberger fielded questions from concerned parents and students for nearly an hour.